Pasture management is an obsession of mine. When done correctly, even a smaller than preferred area for your horse can be kept lush, safe and healthy. It may take work, thought and planning, but it can be done and I find the topic to be fascinating.
Gem and Pete are on 3-4 acres. That satisfies the bare minimum for my region’s grass type, soil quality and terrain: 2 acres for the first horse and 1 acre for every horse thereafter. Your area may require more or less room depending on the above. We are fortunate that the pasture was previously used for what qualifies as hay down here and has a solid, mature root system of fescue. I prefer fescue to coastal because it grows year round, although it does need a good bit of water in the hotter months, and grows taller blades of grass.
Overall I am really happy with the soil and the grass growing on the acres we have access too. There are no hills in the pasture, but the land has a gradual slope which allows for good run off if it ever decides to rain. After a month of being on it 24/7, you can tell the horses have been grazing but there are still untouched regions and the grass has continued to grow and not be eaten down. We are only feeding 1/4 bale of hay at night and both horses have gained weight since being home. In fact, we had to cut Pete’s grain down again and I am watching Gem carefully while we get back into work.
There are two things that I don’t like: only having one pasture which eliminates the ability to rotate and rest one while they are on another (the best method to pasture management) and the vast amount of poop strewn everywhere. While I cant correct the first issue right now (plans are in motion for future use of the other 5 acre field) I can do something about the poop.
Most people will think I am being OCD or just plain nuts, but seeing all those big piles of poop in the pasture makes me itchy. A horse produces roughly 50 lbs of poop a day. They have been out there for almost 4 weeks, so they have produced roughly 2800 lbs of poop. And all that poop is in the pasture. Not only is it an eye sore, but it isn’t healthy for the horses or pasture.
The most obvious reason is the spread of parasites. Gem and Pete are not on a routine de worming program. We test a fecal sample twice a year for egg count and treat if necessary. They haven’t been positive in 2 years. I’d like to keep it that way. If they were carrying worms, allowing all that worm and egg filled poop to just lay in the pasture will spread those worms and increase the risk of reinfection. They were tested a few weeks prior to the move, so it will be very interesting to see what the fall test reveals. Big piles of poop also attract flies, their eggs and are just gross.
Another reason though, is seeds. Weed seeds that are not digested will be spread throughout the pasture putting your nice, lush grass at risk. If you have a larger area, it isn’t such a big deal, but I am working in a smaller area than I would like (I would prefer two 10 acre pastures to rotate between) and I don’t need the grass killed off.
The last big reason though has to do with the grass growth itself. Piles of poop not only kill off the grass via smothering, it also deters the horses from grazing in those spots as they go off to hunt cleaner regions. The pasture can easily become an area of rough zones, where the weeds and grass have grown tall and won’t be eaten due to the presence of manure, and lawns, areas eaten down to nothing and stunting the grass growth. Neither are good.
All that to say…I needed to do something with the 2800 lbs of poop scattered about the pasture. Most resources say to rest the pasture. Move the horses to another, drag and mow it and allow it to sit and renew while they create havoc next door. You do not want to drag or spread manure in a pasture that is being actively used. Read all the above about the spread of weed seeds and parasites.
The only option for me is to pick it out of the pasture. I probably look like an idiot to all the neighbors as I walk with wheelbarrow and pitchfork in hand, picking up poop from the pasture. It is also frustrating work since they are pooping right in front of you as you are cleaning it up, but it only took a weekend and I didn’t mind it at all.
Of course, this lead to the next dilemma: what to do with all this manure. A manure pile makes my skin crawl. I told you I am obsessed with this stuff, right? I mean, a big stinking pile of manure that attracts flies like crazy just won’t work for me. After even more research, I settled on my solution.
A compost bin. Or three.
By composting the manure, I can turn the manure plus all those darn leaves into wonderful soil. Delicious soil that can be spread on the pasture to enrich it – weed seeds and parasites are killed in the composting since it gets to about 115F when made correctly – and can put it on my flower beds as well. The enclosed system locks away odors and keep the bugs to a minimum.
It is a win-win for my little pasture OCD heart.
I only had to get the hubby to build me what I wanted and add the goodies in. I’ll post a how to shortly to show the steps of making it, but it is everything my little heart could desire.