Spring is the time of year when grass grows the most and so now is a good time to take advantage of this by following our step-by-step action plan for perfect pastures.
Remove droppings daily – droppings make the grass sour and will leave worm eggs on the pasture.
Dig up persistent weeds with a fork, or spray individual clumps of weeds using a backpack sprayer.
Coarse clumps of grass (known as the rough patches) are sour and horses will avoid eating these. Help get rid of them by allowing your local farmer to graze his cattle or sheep in the field, or alternatively cut these sour patches down.
From late February through until mid-April a spiked harrow can be used on the ground. This is best done when the ground is quite firm and not too wet (if too wet you will damage the soil structure and will end up with a muddy mess). Spike harrowing will encourage the grass to tiller (grow new side shoots) making a thicker sward and also removes old dead matter.
Rolling the field can be done when the ground is firm, but not too hard, otherwise the roller will not have the desired effect. Rolling will push the grass plants back into the soil allowing the roots to make better contact with the soil. The roller will also compress the clods of soil which have been lifted up by horses hooves throughout the winter and leave the surface of the field flatter.
If you are unable to roll the field, walking around the field treading in divots is better than nothing.
Fertiliser should be applied from early April onwards preferably when there is to be some rain to help wash it into the ground, but try to avoid fertilising when there is torrential rain forecast or you will risk the fertiliser draining through the soil too quickly to have much effect.
A typical rate of nitrogen applied to horse grazing land is approximately 30-40kg/hectre of non-organic fertiliser. These are readily made and are obtainable from agricultural merchants. If you decide to use organic fertiliser then the rate is usually 25 tonnes per hectare, which is normally applied in the autumn when there is sufficient rainfall to wash it into the soil.
To gauge a correct analysis of your soil pH and level of nutrients a simple soil test can be taken. This will give you an accurate pH reading and will inform you of exactly which if any of the nutrients are deficient (N=nitrogen, P=phosphrous, K=Potassium). The fertiliser speading rate can then be adapted to suit the pastures needs. (ADAS or an agricultural college will provide this service for you).
If your grazing is not horse sick and just needs a bit of TLC and an extra boost in the spring and autumn months it is possible to apply a mixture of 20:10:10 fertiliser to the pasture.
To use your grazing land to its full potential – strip graze. While resting one area use the time to work on the ground – top off the rough areas if needed, check for weed infestation and treat accordingly.
Most farmers are quite approachable – you may be able to come up with a system where he will spread the fertiliser/ harrow/roll in return for a few animals grazing on your land for acouple of weeks a year or a small fee.
Stock rotation is a good way to break the worm cycle in the field!
Sheep are helpful- their feet help pat down the soil and will also eat the rough areas.
If you are unable to find afarmer or agricultural merchant to spread the fertiliser then a hand pushed garden lawn feeder will do the job, but this will be more labour intensive.