Explore Our Grazing Site

Welcome to the virtual home of University of Maryland’s Equine Rotational Grazing Demonstration Farm! Here you will find information on the development and management of the farm. 

The Equine Rotational Grazing Demonstration Farm is part of the Central Maryland Research and Educational Center in Clarksville, Maryland. The site was developed to educate equine farm operators how to better manage their pastures to benefit horses and the environment. Establishment of the pastures began in September 2007, and horses started grazing at the farm in April 2009. The farm is used for collecting important field data on the horses and plants in the rotational grazing system and for hosting educational events demonstrating the data collected. 

University of Maryland Equine Rotational Grazing Demonstration Site 
4241 Folly Quarter Road 
Ellicott City, MD 21042

Development

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?

loafing lot

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
    

 

Facility

Overview

 

The Equine Rotational Grazing Demonstration Farm encompasses 5.5 acres of the Central Maryland Research and Educational Center at 4241 Folly Quarter Road, Ellicott City, Maryland. This area includes a sacrifice lot and laneway, two vegetative heavy use areas, and four rotational grazing pastures. 

Loafing Lot and Laneway

Horses are confined to the loafing lot when pasture is in need of rest and regrowth or when there is a drought or heavy rain. The lot is 4,096 square feet and features a 10 by 36 foot run-in shed, square bale hay basket, and automatic waterer. A 16 foot laneway behind the lot provides access to each of the four gazing pastures. The footing in these areas is designed for heavy use to prevent mud and erosion. The heavy use pad is made from three types of stone – #2, CR6, and bluestone – compacted to a total of 13 inches. The specifications for the construction of the footing were provided by the Maryland Soil Conservation Districts.


    

Vegetative Heavy Use Areas

Two 0.2 acre paddocks (~ 10,500 square ft each) are located on either side of the sacrifice lot. These areas are designed to maintain forage that is tolerant to heavy foot travel by horses. They are grazed when the rotational pastures are in regrowth periods. 

Heavy use paddock A contains four varieties of Bermudagrass: Wrangler, Cheyenne II, Mohawk, and Riviera. Since Bermudagrass grows best in warmer temperatures, this paddock will used for grazing when the growth of the rotational pastures slows during mid-summer. 
Update: Cheyenne II and Mohawk did not survive the winter of 2008 and have been replanted with Sprigged Tufcoat, Patriot, and Quickstand Bermudagrass. 

Heavy use paddock B contains Justice Tall Fescue turfgrass along with three different varieties of bluegrass turfgrass: Bandera, Cheetah, and SR2100.

Rotational Pastures

Four rotational grazing pastures of 1.2 acres each are planted with “endophyte-friendly” Tall Fescue (Pennington’s Max-Q), Slezanka Kentucky Bluegrass, and white clover. Horses are allowed access to the sacrifice lot at all times, but access to each rotational pasture is closely monitored to ensure optimum growth of the forages. In general, horses are moved to a pasture when grass height reaches 6 to 8 inches and then moved off of the pasture when grass height reaches 3 inches. If needed, water can also be offered in each rotational pasture via a hydrant system.

 

Perimeter Fencing

A variety of fencing and gate types are installed at the farm so that visitors may see how different materials can be used in a real-life setting. For fencing, all posts are 6 inch pressure-treated pine posts in 8 foot sections. Five different types of perimeter fencing were installed in December 2007:

4-rail plastic-coated pressure treated wood board


Estimated cost/linear ft installed was $15, and it should last at least 15 years as per manufactures estimate.

4-rail rough cut oak board


Estimated cost/linear ft installed was $8.00, and it should last 15 years.

4-rail pressure treated pine board

Estimated cost/linear ft installed was $8, and it should last 30 years.

4-rail vinyl with 3 high tensile wires

Estimated cost/linear ft installed was $12.50, and it should last at least 30 years as per manufactures estimate.

1-rail pressure treated pine board with 2”x4” non-climb mesh


Estimated cost/linear ft installed was $8.50, and it should last 30 years.

Internal Fencing

The internal fencing showcase contains three different types of posts and three different types of electric fence rail products. All posts were set 12 ft apart. It is powered by a solar panel with a battery pack. There was no cost for installation because it was installed by farm staff.

2-Strand 1/4” electric rope with 4’ fiberglass step-in posts @ $0.36/linear ft

2-Strand 1/3” electric rope with 4’ fiberglass posts @ $0.41/linear ft

    

3-Strand 1 1/2” electric ribbon with 5’ plastic step-in posts @ $0.58/linear ft

     
Note: fenceline has 3 strands of electric tape as opposed to 2 like the others.

Fencing constructed of step-in posts and one strand of an electric rail product can be easily removed and reinstalled if needed. This type of fencing is good to use if you are considering making hay off one or more of your pastures.

Gates

Four different types of gates are installed on the farm.

  • Light duty 1 ¾” tubular 6-bar gates: hung on the perimeter fence line. Gates along the perimeter of the pasture are likely to experience less wear and tear than those in the heavily used areas of the pasture, like the laneway and sacrifice area.
  • Medium duty 1 ¾” tubular 7-bar gates: used at the entrance to pastures along the laneway. These were chosen to show 6 vs 7 bar options on horse gates.
  • One Medium duty 2 x 4” wire mesh gate: hung on the perimeter fence line. This gate is a likely favorite of horse owners with foals.
  • Heavy duty 2” tubular 6-bar gates: used in the heavy use/sacrifice areas

Equipment and Storage

An on-farm storage shed houses our log books, a three-day supply of hay to avoid numerous trips to our hay storage barn, horse care supplies, and basic lawn maintenance equipment. Our hay storage shed is a 26' x 36' ClearSpan storage structure adjacent to our research barn at our Equine Research Unit . 

For maintaining our pastures, we use a John Deere tractor with various attachments for mowing, overseeding, and fertilization. For mowing, we use an 8’ rotary mower. For application of commercially available herbicides we use a 2 gallon sprayer that has wheels for ease of use.

Manure Storage

It is estimated that each day, each of our horses produces 40 – 50 lbs pounds of feces and urine with a volume of 0.8 cubic feet that needs to be managed. Manure deposited on the pastures is harrowed after horses are moved off the pasture to spread out nutrients onto the pasture. Manure in the sacrifice lot and laneway is removed daily and temporarily stored at the farm. The staff at our research and education farm kindly removes the feces regularly and composts it on the farm. The development of a 9’ x 10’ concrete manure storage structure that has three 2’ high walls is currently underway so that manure is stored on an impervious base.

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.