University of Maryland Extension

Management

Horses

 
Horses are managed as a herd and are rotated through the system based on plant growth, forage availability, and weather conditions. Horses are inspected twice daily with a more detailed inspection occurring during the morning hours. During the morning, horses are brought into the sacrifice lot where they are each groomed and treated for minor wounds and abrasions. At night, a head count of horses and a general observation of health and behavior is performed. Life threatening emergencies would be reported to our veterinarian immediately with non-threatening emergencies reported to either the graduate student in charge or the equine faculty supervisor. We also hire and train undergraduate students from the ANSC Department to help care for the horses throughout the year. 

Routine care of the horses includes teeth floating as needed, hoof trimming as needed, vaccinations following AAEP guidelines, and monthly fecal egg counts to identify the presence of parasite eggs. As mentioned earlier, horses were dewormed and zero egg counts were necessary prior to horses being placed on the pasture. Only one of the horses has required deworming since being placed on the rotational grazing farm. Monthly estimates of body weight and body condition score are performed and all daily interactions with horses are recorded into a log sheet located at the farm. 

Horses do not receive any additional supplements to the pasture unless they are confined to the sacrifice lot. During those times, horses receive hay to meet their daily nutritional requirements. Ideally, hay fed in the sacrifice lot is hay that is made from one or more of our rotational pastures during times of excellent grass growth.

Pastures

 
Soil testing is performed annually and lime and fertilizer is applied based on soil test recommendations. Horses are rotated through the system based on pasture grass height. For example, when pasture 1 grass height is between 6 and 8 inches, horses are allowed access to it and the sacrifice lot. When the horses graze Pasture 1 to an average grass height of 3 inches, they are moved off of pasture 1. Horses are then moved to the next pasture in the system that has regrowth of 6 to 8 inches. Either just before or after the horses are moved from Pasture 1, it is mowed to encourage even grass growth and then allowed to rest. During periods of minimal growth or inclement weather, horses are restricted from rotational pastures, confined to the sacrifice lot, and fed hay. 

During periods of excellent growth, like in the spring or fall, one or more pastures may be allowed to grow and not be grazed so that hay can be harvested and fed later as hay during the winter months. 

Pasture field management practices are focusing on optimum pasture productivity and survival, thus overseeding may not need to be performed for the next 10 years. Bare spot or problem area will be reseeded as needed.

Collecting Data

To gain important information on how our system functions, we are observing many things at the farm. Grass height is recorded often on each pasture to record the rate of grass growth across seasons and in response to grazing. Grass height is used to make decisions about when to move horses on and off of pastures. Along with every measurement of grass height, we also measure available forage mass using a commercially available pasture gauge. The pasture gauge estimates how many pounds of forage is available for consumption on each acre of pasture. We can use that data to estimate how much forage is available when the horses are moved onto a pasture and how much forage the horses consumed while grazing that pasture. 
     

We’re also using GPS tracking devices on the horses to see how they move through the system. We have a basic understanding of how many miles they cover in a day, time they spend grazing, and the time they spend loafing in the sacrifice area. Graduate students and undergraduate students assist in data collection along with our research technician. Collecting this important data will improve the recommendations we make to horse owners who are interested in establishing their own rotational grazing system using similar grass species.
    

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