Mid-winter is a great time to give your horse pastures a little love. While summer grasses are slumbering now, come spring they will appreciate the attention you give them over the winter. Tipton County Extension Agent III, Becky Muller, gives several pasture management action points for the remaining winter months.
An excellent pasture starts with healthy soil. Your local extension agent is a great resource for advice on collecting and submitting an effective soil sample. Once the results are obtained, the agent can then advise on soil amendments, such as lime, fertilizer, or herbicides. Ms Muller advises checking lime status of pastures every 3 years. “When soil pH is optimum, lime encourages good grass growth and discourages weed growth,” adds Muller. “Lime moves very slowly in the soil, but January is typically wet so it can be challenging to spread lime in winter,” she notes. She recommends spreading fertilizer as grass starts to green in the spring, but cautions to spread right before a rain so the fertilizer is watered into the soil.
Winter can be a good time to address problems above ground such as muddy areas or erosion. Muller says, “horses in a smaller areas mess up the soil and grasses, so keep a sacrifice area to feed hay over the winter.” She suggests using hay feeders or slow-feed nets to reduce hay waste. While it may be too wet to bring equipment into the pasture, you can identify areas that need attention when the ground dries enough to bring in additional soil, re-route water flow, add gravel to high traffic areas like gates, or maybe use fencing to exclude horse traffic in an area of erosion. It’s a good time to call contractors to do a walk-through and get estimates for major work. Spring will come soon and schedules get busy.
While summer grasses are dormant it’s easy to find areas that may need re-seeding. It’s important to spread seed at the optimal time and rate (pounds per acre) for each variety of seed. UT Extension PB1651 “Pastures for Horses” is the go-to resource for horse owners who want to optimize their pasture’s performance. Remember to keep horses off new seeding for 6-8 weeks while the grass establishes a good root system.
Don’t forget the mechanical aspects of keeping horses. Winter is an excellent time to get your tractor and mower ready for the growing season. Many shops are less busy at this time of year making it easier to get repairs done quickly. Find a sunny day to take a walk around the fence line too. While you make not need to make repairs now, it’s good to plan for updates and changes you might want to make in the spring. A little prep now will make the transition to pasture mowing and pasture turnout go smoothly.
While winter might seem an odd time to consider your dormant pastures that sit vacant over the winter, it really is the perfect time for pre-season evaluation. A little love now will assure good grass growth come spring.
Read UT Extension PB1651 “Pastures for Horses” resource here to help improve your pastures: https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/PB1651.pdf