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Field of Greens - Rotating paddocks keeps grass greener

Rebecca Colnar

After seeing your horse trying to graze on barren ground all winter, it sure is nice to see green grass beginning to poke through the soil. Keeping pastures green and healthy requires careful management. "A lot of people start out with good pasture, but neglect it," notes Fred Harper. "Spring is the time to soil test, then lime and fertilize accordingly. Of course, if you do that, you need to keep the horses off the pasture at least until the first good rain.

"You want to make sure your grass is the appropriate height--and that varies from pasture to pasture--before turning your horses out on it," the University of Tennessee Extension Specialist notes. "If it's a wet, rainy spring, you'll want to keep your horses off the pasture," says Harper. "There are two reasons for this--first, they'll ruin the sod and second, they'll form holes and large ruts in the ground that, when dry, make for treacherous footing."

Harper is an advocate of rotating horses between small, temporary paddocks--so-called rotational grazing. "If you are going to use electric fence for a rotational grazing system, use a tape, not just the narrow wire," he advises. "Your horse can get injured on that. But it's important to keep your horse off a pasture that's rejuvenating itself after winter."

Harper strongly encourages walking the pasture before spring turn-out begins.

First, check the fences. Often, they'll loosen over the winter with the freeze and thaw cycles; boards can become loose, electric tape can droop. This is also a good time to make sure the gates work properly, and that there are no protruding nails or sharp edges.

"You'll also want to look for old posts that have come up through the soil in the winter, halters that your horses may have stomped into the mud, anything horses might injure themselves on," he says.

"Make sure there are no toxic weeds present--wild cherries, red maples and persimmon trees are potentially toxic. If you have questions, talk to your local Extension agent."

Of course, check the water supply and make sure your horse has a good free-choice mineral.

"Don't forget to look at the run-in shed," Harper notes. "If your horses have been using it all winter, you'll need to clean it. And while you're in there, make sure there are no nails or splinters poking out."

1997-2004 Southern States Cooperative, Inc., Reprinted from Mane Points magazine, with permission of Southern States Cooperative, Inc.