University of Maryland Extension


A New Idea 

Horses can have a big impact on the environment, especially when it comes to the fields and pastures where they live. The relationship between horses and how they affect their environment is largely dependent on how the farm owner manages the land. There are a lot of things farm owners and managers can do to lessen the negative impact their horses have on the environment – these are usually called “best management practices” or BMPs. 

But how do farm owners learn about BMPs and how to implement them on their own farms? This need for outreach education sparked the idea to create a farm where members of the local horse community could come to see BMPs in action. The idea for the Equine Rotational Grazing Demonstration Farm was developed in 2007. Today, the farm serves as a living-learning tool to help teach farm owners and managers how to care for their pastures in order to best promote the health of the environment as well as their horses.

What is Rotational Grazing?

Rotational grazing involves grazing a group of horses through a series of small enclosed pastures such that they graze pastures when forage height is greater than 6 inches and moved to another pasture or “sacrifice area” when forage height is less than 3 inches. Non-grazed pastures are mowed and managed for weeds during periods of rest and regrowth. Rotational grazing of horses is recommended instead of continuous grazing because it helps to maintain pasture vegetative cover, increases forage production and quality, and balance the nutrient load on the pasture. 

Getting Started

Creating the rotational grazing farm was a big project involving cooperation between many different organizations including University of Maryland Extension, Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Soil Conservation Districts, Maryland Department of Agriculture, and Maryland Department of the Environment to name just a few. More than $92,000 in funding was contributed by Natural Resource Conservation Service, Thoroughbred Charities of America, and the United States Department of Agriculture. Finally, a location had to be chosen. Five and a half acres of land adjacent to our Equine Research Unit at the Central Maryland Research and Education Center in Ellicott City were designated for the site.

Project Timeline

2007 Winter Designed site layout with University and Soil Conservation professionals
April Marked off site with flags
Conducted soil test and applied lime according to recommendations
Applied Roundup™ to kill off all existing vegetation
2008 January Ran water lines to rotational pastures and sacrifice lot prior to seeding
April Seeded rotational pastures with MaxQ™ Fescue and Slezanka Bluegrass using a No-till drill. 
June Applied Forefront® R&P Herbicide to control weeds, particularly Canada Thistle
Established vegetative heavy use areas: tilled, cultipacked, and hand-seeded all varieties 
July Applied 2,4-D/Dicamba/Mecoprop-P in vegetative heavy use paddocks to control weeds
August Installed heavy use pad in sacrifice lot and laneway

Constructed run-in shed on-site to avoid disturbing newly seeding pastures and heavy use paddocks
December Installed perimeter fence and gate showcase
2009 March Overseeded with white clover
Installed internal fence showcase
April Held first pasture walk on the farm
Began grazing horses on the farm
August Held second pasture walk in coordination with MD Dept. of Agriculture

Development Costs as of April 2009

Pasture Establishment $1,577
Pasture Management $501
Watering System $1,130
Heavy Use Pad $12,900
Perimeter Fence $28,832
Internal Fence Supplies $145
Gates $2,357
Run-In Shed $6,671
Subtotal $55,204
Donated Items
Seed $1,091
Heavy Use Pad Materials $2,000
Hay Feeder $500
Lime $400
Internal Fence $700
Subtotal $3,600
*Does not include labor

Serving the Equine Community

Post-event survey results indicated that visitors to the site learned a lot about best management practices and even plan to implement some of what they learn on their own farms. The Equine Rotational Grazing Demonstration site will continue to serve as a positive educational force within the equine community through its future outreach efforts.

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