With the summer in sight, HORSE magazine says now is the time to make sure your pastures are in tip top condition
Now is a good time of year to putany fencing plans into operation. The ground is firm enough to drive in new posts securely and you will be able to get vehicles onto the site and carry out work without causing too much damage to either.
Duringthe months of March and April, spring growth begins, with the result that weeds also appear. Although weeds are not particularly noticeable at this stage, it is now – when they are approximately the size of your thumb – that they can be dealt withmost effectively, as the tender young shoots are more susceptible to treatment by weed killer. Spraying the weeds in these early stages also prevents them taking hold and adversely affecting the growth of your grass.
Remember that some weedcontrol treatments are toxic, and a few weeds, such as ragwort, are more palatable when dead.
Care must be taken to avoid any possible consumption of the dead shoots by livestock. Either remove the ragwort by hand or allow it to erode naturally over time while you rest the field and the good grass progresses.
For health and safety reasons, it is advisable to use a qualified agricultural contractor or farmer with the relevant insurance to apply the necessary chemicals. He will also be able to advise you on how long you should rest the treated area after the application. A period of about two weeks is usually recommended.
Expect to be charged around £20-£25 per hour, from the time the contractor leaves home, for this service to be carried out. The actual chemical used must then also be paid for. A typical grassland herbicide costs between £10 and £20 per acre, depending on the type of chemicals used.
Harrowing your pasture willhelp level the rough potholed areas, incorporate the newly spread grass seed, stimulate the growth of grass, remove moss and weeds and spread droppings. If the area of grassland is too large to remove droppings by hand, harrowing and resting the field will also reduce the risk of worm infestation. If you employ an agricultural contractor, expect to be charged around £7 per acre on areas over 10 acres. For areas of less than 10 acres, you are likely to be charged around £20 per hour.
Rolling should closely follow the harrowing operation, preferably within two days. It will fill in and level the paddock’s uneven surface and pack down any loose soil. In turn, this will encourage the newly spread grass seed to germinate and reduce the risk of birds making a feast of it. The rolling operation will not completely eradicate the damage done by horse hooves, but it will greatly improve the appearance of the field and level the ground sufficiently toreduce the risk of horses jarring or damaging their limbs. Particular attention should be paid to the areas around gateways.
Horses are very fussy eaters. Out of choice, they will only graze the most palatable grass,leaving other areas relatively untouched. The grass in these areas will quickly become long, rough and covered in droppings. As well as being unsightly, if left in this state, it will eventually spread, leaving even fewer areas of good, palatable grass for grazing.
To help maintain healthy grass, topping should be carried out whenever the grass starts to look overgrown and untidy.
The grass should be cut to a height of approximately 4in-6in. In the case of fields used for hayproduction, it is advisable to top during the autumn. This allows time for the topped grass to rot down over the winter months, which encourages new growth in the spring, maximising your crop.
Rotating the use of your paddocks to allow every one to rest for a period of three to four weeks after heavy use will ensure that the grass has an opportunity to repair and rejuvenate. Any paddock maintenance, such as harrowing, can be carried out during this period to reduce the risk of parasites.
If you are able to offer your horse good, nutritional grazing, you are more likely to avoid problems such as wood-chewing and cribbing, which are often linked to a lack of free access to forage. By taking careof your pasture, or ensuring that landowners who offer grazing land manage their fields properly, you can enhance your horse’s overall wellbeing.
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