Letting grass grow under your horse’s feet, Rutgers-style

By Nancy Jaffer
May 29, 2016

Equine extension specialist Dr. Carey Williams of Rutgers spoke about horse pasture best management practices at An Evening of Wine and Equine in Long Valley.

If you own a horse, you probably have a familiarity with pasture, but how much do you really know about making the most of the property where your horse eats and roams?

Equine Extension Specialist Dr. Carey Williams of Rutgers University offered insights to a group of about 50 that turned out last week in Long Valley for one of several evenings of “Wine and Equine” held around the state.

The sessions also included information about manure (if you’re a horse owner, you’re familiar with that too) from Extension Specialist Dr. Michael Westendorf.

The idea of the program, which will continue with new information at other locations in June, was to expose horse farm owners to the concept of improving the environmental sustainability of their acreage.

Such property helps maintain open space in the most densely populated state in the country, where horse farms account for more than 20 percent of the agricultural land base.

A 1,000-pound horse needs from two to three acres for enough pasture to provide its total nutrient requirements. But one horse can be maintained on a half-acre of pasture if turned out for less than three hours a day, all the way up to unlimited turnout time for two acres. Ratios can be changed with elevated levels of management.

That means attention to mowing, irrigating, fertilizing and over-seeding. Plants need a chance to recover after grazing, so pasture rotation is key, and use of drylots or “sacrifice” areas (so called because they involve giving up land that could be used as pasture) also plays a major role in that regard.

Carey suggested dividing big fields into smaller sections to facilitate rotation, closing the horses out of one section to let it regrow while introducing them into another section. That offers a chance to mow (which controls weeds) and spread manure in the grazed section while it rests.

Grazing expert Jill Ott of the U.S. Department of Agriculture had the attention of both equine and human spectators for her presentation about drainage.

A month later, grass could be six to eight inches high, provided there has been proper management, unless the weather is hot and dry.  How low grass can be grazed depends on soil properties and the type of grass; fescue and orchard grass, for instance, should only be grazed down to about three inches minimum, Carey said.
Manure has value, Mike emphasized, noting it can reduce the need for energy-intensive nitrogen fertilizer and limited resource phosphorous fertilizer.  The downside of manure that is improperly dealt with involves erosion, possible groundwater contamination and ultimately, a decrease in pasture and farm productivity.

“You’ve got something that can definitely be a resource, but if managed incorrectly, is a problem,” he commented.

Nutrient management plans are necessary in dealing with manure, and that’s an area where the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service can help.

USDA representatives were on hand to explain what NRCS does, which includes working out resource assessment toward a conservation plan, and offering financial assistance where available if an applicant is eligible. NRCS representatives will come to a farm to help develop a plan that is tailored specifically for the landowner’s needs.

This is the first year $400,000 is being offered to horse farms by NRCS.  Applications are due by June 17 for the first round of funding, which covers pasture, manure and nutrient management plans. The second round deadline is July 17, and it only covers nutrient management plans.

To find out more or obtain help in getting in touch with NRCS, contact Carey at carey.williams@rutgers.edu.

The next Northern New Jersey program is June 21 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Centenary University Equestrian Center, 56 Califon Road, Long Valley,  while another Central New Jersey session is June 23 during the same hours at Fantasie Farms, 30 Wygant Road, Cream Ridge.

The programs are free, but an RSVP is required to either westendorf@aesop.rutgers.edu or carey.williams@rutgers.edu.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someonePrint this pageShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Google+