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Selecting A Pasture | FarmSeeds.com

Equine Grazing Recommendations

Horse Grazing Pasture

Horse pastures are best when horses are allowed to graze a mixture of grasses, clovers and other legumes such as alfalfa. Horses should also be fed small grain hays.

Please read our important information about clover before you allow horses to graze on clover. While clover is an excellent forage crop there are some concerns that you need to know, even though the benefits of legumes such as clover outweigh the concerns. We want you to have the best and safest horse pasture possible.

Steps For Establishing A Horse Pasture

  1. The only way to produce high forage yields is to know the condition of your soil. The first step should be to obtain a soil test so as to determine the fertilization needs and pH of the soil. Your extension agent can assist with obtaining a soil test. Test in sections of no more than 10 acres for best results. Retest every one to three years. After testing you can determine the fertilizers and limes needed to provide for highest yields. PH is VERY important in maintaining good forage production. When pH of the soil becomes acidic, the grasses can NOT utilize the nutrients provided by fertilizers. Apply N-P-K based on your soil analysis test results.
  2. The second step is to determine the best grass / legume and/or forages to plant to provide grazing for your horses. Keep in mind that you must manage grazing for most efficient use. Horses are notorious for being a grazing machine and can over-graze a field if not properly managed by limiting access. Also to best maintain the optimum health of your equine animals you should provide supplemental feed. -- See the chart below for the various grasses, legumes and forages for equine use.

Pasture Grass & Forage Rating Charts By Area

The following color coded charts list some of the most popular and widely used horse pasture forage crops. The chart is color coded by warm season - cool season and annual - perennial. Other forages are listed below the second chart.

Chart Color Codes:

Grass/Forage Cultivar

Color Code

Warm Season Perennial  
Warm Season Annual  
Cool Season Perennial  
Cool Season Annual  
Cool Season Perennial Legumes  
Cool Season Annual Legumes  

Note: Cool Season grasses tend to be annual only in warmer Southern USA areas providing forage to around May-June of each year. -- Warm Season grasses also may perform as annuals in cooler Northern USA areas, with possible permanent winter-kill of grass from cold temps.

Tolerance to Site Conditions: 1=Poor 2=Fair 3=Good 4=Excellent

Common Name

Soil
Acidity
Poor
Drainage
Drought Grazing
Bahiagrass 4 3 4 4
BermudaGrass
Cheyenne & Ranchero
4 1 4 4
Dallisgrass 2 4 3 3
Pennleaf  Pearl Millet 4 1 4 2
Browntop Millet 4 1 4 2
Kentucky Bluegrass 2 2 1 4
Orchardgrass 2 2 2 2
MaxQ Fescue 3 3 3 4
Timothy 2 2 2 2
Passerel Plus Ryegrass 3 4 2 4
Annual Ryegrass 3 3 2 3
Oats 2 2 2 3
Wintergrazer 70 Rye 4 2 2 3
Supergrazer (Rye & Ryegrass) 4 2 2 3
Wheat 1 1 2 3
Alfalfa 1 1 4 1
Red Clover 2 2 2 3
White Clover 2 3 2 4
Arrowleaf Clover 2 1 3 3
Crimson Clover 3 1 2 4
Hairy Vetch 3 1 2 2
Rose Clover 3 1 3 3

Additional legumes used in horse pasture and hay are birdsfoot trefoil, lespedeza, soybean hay, cowpea hay, vetch, and rhizomal peanut hay.

Choices In Grasses And Forages For Horses

Cool Season Perennial Pasture Grass

MaxQ, Kentucky Bluegrass and Orchardgrass are used for permanent cool season horse pastures. Clovers or other legumes such as alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, lespedeza, soybean hay, cowpea hay, vetch, and rhizomal peanut hay should be included in these pastures for a companion species. MaxQ makes an excellent Tall Fescue pasture and is safe for pregnant mares. Testing at the Mississippi State University on horse pastures planted ONLY with MaxQ Tall Fescue has shown NO symptoms of fescue toxicities after over10 years of grazing trials.

Cool Season Annual Pasture Grass

Small grains and/or ryegrass or winter annual grass and legume mixtures make superb horse pastures. Passerel Plus Ryegrass, Gulf Annual Ryegrass are highly productive in late spring and early summer. Extremely nutritious and palatable. Rye Grains which are blends of Rye (grain) and Ryegrass are good choices. Cereal grains (Rye, Wheat) are the most tolerant of soil acidity and cold temperatures.

Warm Season Perennial Pasture Grass

Warm season perennials are mainly used in Southern regions of the USA. Bermudagrass, Bahiagrass and Weeping Lovegrass are the best choices. Newer improved seeded Bermudas include the Cheyenne II Bermuda Grass cultivar and the Ranchero Frio Blend (Both forage & Hay Production). Bermuda makes a SAFE, easily established and excellent pasture for horses. Pensacola Bahia, Argentine, fast germinating TifQuik Bahia and improved Tifton 9 Bahia are used for Bahia grass equine pastures.

Warm Season Annual Pasture Grass

Warm season annuals are often used for horse pastures in the lower South. These species can also be overseeded with cool season annuals to provide more forage year-round. Annual Ryegrass (such as Passerel Plus or Gulf Annual) are used to overseed existing Perennial pastures for extended grazing with planting in the fall for use through late spring. --- Annuals suitable for equine use:

Pennleaf Pearl Millet is very productive... but may not be palatable when first planted. Millets are excellent emergency forage. Browntop Millet is a good forage for horses but very short lived (less than 90 days). Crab Grass seed produces a popular southern pasture forage. Common crabgrass is a volunteer species that can be used if correctly managed.

Feeding And Grazing Horses On Clover

Clover can be a desirable feed source for most horses whether used in pasture or in hay because it provides useful energy and acceptable protein and fiber. Clover also is a natural nitrogen builder for soil, eliminating the need for expensive and environmentally detrimental chemical nitrogen fertilizers. Clovers may occasionally be infected with mold, causing slobbers, photosensitivity, and bleeding. Even with these potential problems, clover is still considered a useful forage for horses.

Only moldy clover can cause toxicity problems with horses. In very wet years or periods of high humidity, fencing horses out of clover rich pastures is probably the best control strategy. To decrease the chance of mold, you can increase air movement, by mowing, thinning clover stands, or improving drainage. When using clover for hay, keep in mind that clover, especially red clover, takes longer to dry than other forage species.

For more information and a pictorial view of the different species of clover see this article on feeding horses clover and this article from Penn State on Pasture and Hay For Horses.

DO NOT PLANT THESE GRASSES FOR GRAZING HORSES:

Sorghum, Sudangrass, Johnsongrass, Sorghum-Sudangrass hybrids all should NOT be used for equine / horses. Horses can develop paralysis and urinary disorders from grazing these species. Hay from these species is considered safe for feeding. Kentucky 31 fescue or any variety that contains toxic endophytes should NOT be used as pasturage for pregnant mares. There are safe varieties of Fescue for use - see above.

Above Information Provided By Pennington Seed, Inc.

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