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Pasture Management Help Needed

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  • Pasture Management Help Needed

    Hello, I am looking for information and help with pasture management. I have about 3 acres of what is mostly weeds/plantains and clover. The clover is yummy for the horses but it gives them Slobbers something awful. This is the second full year I've had the horses here at home, and the pasture was in pretty much the same condition when we bought the farmette.

    I don't really feel as if I have enough land/money to justify purchasing any major pieces of equipement, so those of you with farmettes, how do you keep your pastures nice?

    I live in the midwest, western central Illinois to be exact. Any help/advice greatly appreciated!

  • #2
    step one:
    Contact the county extension office
    Step two:
    Take soil samples and have them tested (that means something like a few shovels here and there, mixed and then send off. Nitrogen is heat sensitive, so keep that in mind)

    Ger yourself a good mower.

    And likely you will have to fertilize.
    An abundance of clover indicates that nitrogen is not readily available. That can be the soil is just poor or the pH is messed up.

    So you might have to over seed the pastures to give the good grasses a shot in the arm.

    And of course, mowing it on a regular basis helps a lot.


    • #3
      mow,mow, mow.

      I also have spread lime,seed, fertilizer with a spreader hopper which is about 150, and takes 80 pounds at a time.
      I buy it by the ton in bags, and spread it 2 bags at a time.

      It can be done with some small pieces of equipment, such as a riding lawnmower and a hopper spreader.
      save lives...spay/neuter/geld


      • #4
        Mow frequently. There is no getting around it. Overseed in the fall. Spread your composted manure.


        • #5
          I've reconditioned my pastures by lots of mowing, spreading the manure (using a Newer Spreader) and putting either fertilizer or lime (as needed) and grass seed in with the manure.

          I was just marveling the other night at how much better they are now than when we moved here 7 years ago.
          There are friends and faces that may be forgotten, but there are horses that never will be. - Andy Adams


          • #6

            They are eating all our weeds, it's unbelievable what a great job 2 little guys are doing
            "For some people it's not enough to just be a horse's bum, you have to be sea biscuit's bum" -anon.
            Nes' Farm Blog ~ DesigNes.ca
            Need You Now Equine


            • #7
              The best thing I've done to improve the quality of my pasture was to have a professional come in and spray the pasture for weeds. He usually sprays in September and uses a product called "Forefront". The cost for doing 5+ acres is around $300, and the difference is just amazing.

              You could check with your county extension agent or someone at your feed store to get the name of someone who does agricultural spraying.


              • Original Poster

                Thank you for all the great suggestions! I love the goat idea, as a matter of fact my daughter adores goats but we live in a township of sorts and I don't think we'd be allowed to have them. Bummer because a local horse rescue occassionally gets goats and I'm always tempted to go over and get a few. . .

                It's good to hear that I can take care of this for a reasonable price. $300 or so is in the budget--I just found out from my farrier that his dad has a sprayer hooked up to his quad. Maybe for a bit of cash and a freshly baked pie I could convince him to come spray the pasture :-)

                Regardless of how the weeds get taken care of, it sound as if soil samples are a must-do thing. I'll see what I can find out with the county extension office. Thanks again for all your help!


                • #9
                  I have 3 acres with 1.5 acres strictly for the horses. When I moved in, the pasture hadnt been grazed in almost a year and was over run with weeds, esp dollar weeds being in wet Florida. I did as mentioned above, had my extension agent out to talk to me about what the weeds were, soil, planning, etc. and I then sent a soil sample in to find out how much fertilizer and lime, etc I needed.

                  We luckily were able to borrow my uncles tractor and another friends discing attachment and basically made a small sacrifice area behind the barn, closed the horses off of the main acre and disced everything up. I cant remember now (this was over 5 years ago) if we sprayed the broad leaf killer before or after the discing.... anyways, we then put down the seed and lime and fertilizer (well I think we waited on the fertilizer until we started seeing sprouts of grass.. again it was over 5 years ago). And water water water and water more. And even when the grass is nice, WAIT to put the horses out. Here I have bahia which can form a very deep root system, even up to 10 feet, which is why it does so well during the hot drought months. But I had to let it grow for a few months to establish a good root system before letting the horses out. And of course it was an hour here, an hour there, slowly easing them on to it. I also have the acre split in almost half so I can close off one part and have them graze, then switch and allow the other pasture to rest.

                  After the initial big equipment work, the only things that I use are:

                  riding mower with a 50 or 60" deck
                  4 wheeler
                  drag (this was actually here when we moved and its just hogs wire fencing with posts attached for weight - works great and it was free)
                  20gal liquid attachment with sprayer for the 4 wheeler
                  broadcast spreader that goes on the back of the 4 wheeler

                  Now that we actually have rain and the grass is growing like crazy, I mow about every 2-3 weeks.. sometimes more often depending on how much rain we have. The more you mow, the thicker it comes in. Esp if you mow right when its coming to seed.

                  I will use the drag to break up manure piles so they will dry up faster (no compost pile or manure spreader). I will usually overseed with my bahia in the spring and fertilize when we are going to get good rain. Now I did fertilize and then it rained a tiny bit and the only thing that grew in my one pasture was dollar weeds. Thats where the liquid sprayer comes in handy. Went and got the 2-4D broadleaf herbicide, mixed it up for the sprayer, and have the hubby drive around the pasture while Im on the back of the 4 wheeler, spraying it with the 2-4D. Now we dont have any issues with run off, etc and we did not spray anywhere near the pond. Plus we can totally shut this pasture off. Def check before you go spraying things. But anyways, within a week the dollar weed was all yellow and then we got rain and boom, up came the grass and there is now not a dollar weed anywhere in the one pasture. This sprayer is also good to use the all vegitation killer if you want to spray the fence line to keep the weeds out of that.

                  Obviously the spreader is for the seed and fertilizer and we did use it for the lime as we got the pelleted lime but I havent limed since we really revamped the place 5+ years ago.

                  This is back in 06 when I first moved in before we disced it all up. Whatever green you see is basically weeds.

                  Now I obviously dont have pics of just my grass but here you can see the grass the first spring after we disced (so 1 yr later) - (this is the same field from above but just panned slightly to the right)

                  Gah - ignore my riding here please - but this is summer 1 yr later - July - our hottest month - as you can see - its growing nicely

                  This is how it looks in the winter (AWFUL)

                  But with just over seeding and fertilizing and actually getting rain - this is this past Sunday in the middle of mowing - in areas it was over 6" and was so thick my mower was struggling a bit

                  From upstairs looking out the window - this is it mowed with the #2 setting on the mower deck (so short) - its just super thick and just fertilizer and over seeding once I got the soil and weeds under control

                  Im a visual person (if you couldnt tell) so I hope the pics help show what you can do once you talk to the extension agents and start taking action. Good luck!

                  Member of the ILMD[FN]HP Clique, The Florida Clique, OMGiH I loff my mares, and the Bareback Riders clique!


                  • #10
                    This is how it looks in the winter (AWFUL)
                    the dead horse does not help much to improve the impression....


                    • #11
                      Alagirl, your post is still making me chuckle. Hopefully nobody will have a sense of humor failure.

                      KrazyTb well documented post. But you are in Florida, sandy soil, weird weather, hard to grow good hearty grass, totally different beast then Illinois.

                      Katiehorse; You did not say how may horses you are hoping to graze on this 3 acres but even if it is only one you will never have a pretty paddock. IMO horses are totally indifferent to clover and given a choice clover or grass clover will come in last. They are only eating it because they have no other choice. Clover to a horse is like spice to a human, a little bit is nice too much....
                      First kill everything that is in there. Clover crowds out grass. If you don’t have a tractor with a 3 point hitch then find a farmer, who does. Farmers will most likely give you the best bang for the buck. If no farmer is available contact a couple of landscapers for quotes. Don’t mention horses, they will think you have money to burn. If you have a tractor you can rent equipment needed. After everything is killed off with ground clear and you wait the recommended time before seeding you can rent a PTO driven machine that will dig up and condition the dirt. Aerate if the soil is hard pack. Drag to level, rent a 3 point hitch broad cast seeder that can also be used to fertilize. Do a soil test as suggested in other posts and fertilize off that. Talk to your local Ag Extension Agent for recommended seed. As a tax payer this is free. After dragging and aerating, broadcast seed and drag again to cover. Rent a roller to make sure the seed has good contact, water or hope consistent good rain. We are in SE PA not much different then your area so I would go with the following seed; if you are not going to be grazing pregnant mares use a good quality fescue, inexpensive and hardy. KY blue is the gold standard, but more expensive then gold, especially with having only 3 acres to graze on one horse will make short work of it especially if you don’t give it about a year to establish before putting the horse on it. If you want to have something for them to munch on this winter mix in cool season rye it will grow well into the winter. Split the paddock in half with a moveable electric fence if you want to try and have grass come spring even with one horse. If your horse/s lives out 24/7 your will never have the paddock of your dreams with 3 acres. Keep horses off during mud season or muddy ground. Sorry to bust your bubble but with only 3 acres to work with and even if you only have one horse you will never have the kind of grass cover we all covert. Trust me, I have 150 acres to work with and it is never the way I want it.


                      • #12


                        • #13
                          Good advice above. When you mow, set the mower high. 5inches of grass left after mowing is good, height protects the roots, lets the grass plants have enough leaf left to make food. Height slows rain runoff, better for preventing erosion. Mowing often encourages root growth instead of tall leaves and seeds. Once the plants seed and dry out, they go dormant, quit growing. You lose production.

                          Mowing high and often, keeps the grass producing edible grazing. I cut when grass gets about 8 inches tall. So depending on the rain, that can be weekly or monthly in heat of August. Horses like new growth best, can find it when you keep things mowed.

                          Mowing like this keeps the clover short, which allows the clover to dry quickly in sunshine and prevent the problem with slobbers. I have clover planted in my mixed plant fields, and horses like it. But having dry leaves when horses graze, the short mowed clover doesn't cause any problems. Unmowed clover gets tall, never dries out and creates the perfect damp place for growing fungus which causes slobbers. Red clover will cause the photo sensitivity, so I kill those plants in my field.

                          Productive, pretty paddocks are work. They don't happen by accident. I think of mine as a giant lawn, which needs cutting often to keep it nice, useful to the horses. With smaller acreages, you have to manage them intensively to keep them productive all season. I don't plan to feed my expensive hay in summer, so keeping the pasture growing good grazing is important for me. Horses are out nights to graze, not grazing 24/7. Flies would have them running all day long if kept outside. Horses are well fleshed, with that amount of grass time.

                          Doing soil tests and adding EXACTLY what you need in fertilizers and nutrients to the soil is good management. I disc and slice the ground to add seed, otherwise birds eat it. Broadcasting and adding to the manure doesn't seem to show much to me, in results. I can SEE results using the drop seeder over the sliced ground, in new sprouts of grass. I use a chain harrow to drag after seeding, get a little dirt cover on the seeds. Spring and early Fall are good times to add seed andfertilize with dependable rains and get good results. Chain harrow is great for breaking up manure, smoothing after discing your ground.


                          • Original Poster

                            Follow up. . .

                            KrazyTB Mare, thank you for your detailed post, it's good to read even if we aren't in the same area just to see what others go through to get pretty grass.

                            Gumtree, I have two horses. The pasture is all one field, it isn't portioned off in sections so I would most likely need to somehow create a sacrifice area. It's also hilly with some level areas. The clover is mostly in the level areas. The ground is hard-packed because I don't think the previous owners did much with the pasture. I called our county extension office and they are geared towards flower and vegetable gardeners. They did say they offer soil testing kits but they are only open while I am at work, so will have to bribe one of my teenagers to go get one. What is a PTO machine?

                            I am thinking of buying my own sprayer, any suggestions on brands? ETA, I have a John Deere GT235 lawn tractor, 18 HP.
                            Last edited by katiehorse; Aug. 9, 2011, 12:29 AM. Reason: To add info


                            • #15
                              How much of a hurry are you in to get "good" pasture?

                              I say this because I agree with those who said you won't get a putting green with a small acreage that has horses on it all day & year-round.

                              Of course, if you're like me that doesn't matter. I just want a little something-something for the horses to work on.
                              I still feed hay year-round, just a lot less when there's grass.

                              I have 2 out 24/7/365 on 3ac divided into one large - 1.5ac - 1 small - .5ac - & 1 sacrifice area pastures.
                              All I've ever done was have the small pasture drill-seeded Year 1, then hand-seed the large pasture using a walk-behind spreader & $50 (around 25#) worth of a pasture mix seed from my feedstore in Year 2.
                              No soil-testing, no fertilizing.
                              My pastures were corn/bean fields for years before I bought the place.
                              Fortunately it seems the farmer did not use the weed-killer that kills grasses.
                              I was told that can take years to leach out of the soil.

                              I do mow at least 2-3 times in the Summer - whenever the grass gets around 6-8" or I need to take down the roughs (where the horses poop). I set the deck to High - around 6".
                              As I mow I "mulch" by going over the manure piles.

                              This is Year 7 and finally my pastures are more grass than not-grass.
                              And both the horse & pony are leaving much of their AM hay uneaten to become PM feeding.

                              ETA: I am in the Midwest too - NW Indiana
                              *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                              Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                              Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                              Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


                              • #16
                                2Dogs makes good points. I am all for economical ways of doing things around any farm. And what is suggested is just that. If will work if the soil is of reasonable condition. But I can tell you from experience fertilizing at least once a year is well worth the effort and money when done at the right time. Katiehorse, a PTO is short for Power Take Off, you won’t have one on a small garden tractor like yours. Though it does come on small tractors. It is a spindle that sticks out of the back of the tractor above the hitch. When turned on it will spin and you can attach various implements that are driven by the power of the tractor. If you don’t have a small chain drag and are on a budget forget the sprayer and buy a 4 foot wide drag. Tractor Supply carries them if you have one in your area. Your 18 horse tractor should be able to pull it. If not clean it off and take it back. The drag will be far more useful. Not only to work up the dirt so you can seed but more importantly in such a small paddock to break up and spread the manure. This is something that should be done on a regular bases. Well equipped rental shops should have all of the equipment I suggested even the tractor. Again if on a budget you should get adequate results by dragging, seeding, and you can seed by hand or get an inexpensive spreader for garden tractors and then drag again. It is very important that the seed makes good contact with the soil. Any that does not will not germinate or die shortly there after. I would go with 50 lbs. at least, of a good quality pasture mix, around $100, less for fescue. As to killing off what’s in there, it all depends on how much there is. Everybody has different feelings about using herbicides and too each their on on this. Broadleaf herbicide only kills off weeds, most likely the clover too but not grass. There are different types of ground clear, Round Up being the best know. Again a lot of people feel strongly against using it. You can do internet searches to find something that maybe a bit more environmentally friendly. Very strong vinegar will do the job. Not the stuff at the food store. You will need to order it. Personally I don’t have a problem with certain herbicides when used judicially and I am an old hippy who has been preaching clean and green for 30 years. If you want any chance of having grass of any kind in any one place you will need to section off the paddock and 2Dogs suggested a good way to do it. An inexpensive movable electric fence will do the job. If you don’t have power near by the solar models work well are are not expensive especially for the size you will need. Just don’t let the horses graze down to nothing before moving them. Drag the manure after moving and give it at least 1 month, 2 is better if not longer. But if you move them say every 2-3 weeks and give about the same to rest you should have a much better chance of keeping decent grass in both sides. Keep them in the sacrifice area when muddy or wet. Mow as suggested above. Though your garden tractor will only go as high as 5 inches at best. The more you mow the more it grows. Grass that is. Weeds and crab grass regenerate from seeds they put out so don’t let them go to seed. Crab grass does hold up very well, even in draught but it dies off in late fall.


                                • Original Poster

                                  Hello again! No, I don't have a PTO although thank you for explaining it, that makes sense. I've heard there is a product you can use in the pasture to kill broadleaf weeds (not sure if that includes clover) and you don't have to remove horses while you use it. I'm all good with judicial use of chemicals, my thought is to do this once or twice a year and then sustain the pasture grass with the manure drag/overseeding once I get things cleaned up.

                                  My goals are to get rid of most of the clover and the resulting slobbers, get rid of the overgrowth of weeds, and bring the pasture back to a healthy state. It just looks worn out to me and I am a freak about things being in a state of disrepair LOL

                                  I don't expect to have a golf course or the lawn we had when we lived in the suburbs, I would like to have a grass pasture that can sustain two horses for the better part of the spring/summer. Ms. Mare has to wear a grazing muzzle in the spring so there must be plenty of yummy stuff out there even though it appears to me that they don't graze everywhere (aside from where they poo, I know they won't eat there) and I end up mowing weeds, a lot of weeds.

                                  Generally, horses are out 24/7 now since the pasture is grazed down hard. In the spring/early summer, they are out during the day and stalled at night. Winter they are out 24/7. They have access to run-in stall in the barn with free choice salt and a mineral block.

                                  I took some pictures tonight, I hope I did this right:


                                  (The handsome fellow in the last picture is Yo Yo, he insisted I take his photo and post it for you all to see. What can I say, I am his human and must grant his every wish! LOL)

                                  ETA: I just run over the poops with the mower. Problem is, the horses generally poo in the weeds and that doesn't do any good as far as nourishing the grassy areas. Also, no Tractor Supply in the area, but we do have a farm-related store that is similar. I will have to look there next time I'm in town.
                                  Last edited by katiehorse; Aug. 10, 2011, 01:28 AM. Reason: to add info


                                  • #18
                                    That is far more & denser clover than
                                    I had to deal with.

                                    Although my fields 5 years ago were nothing more than dirt & the occasional tuft of grass in early Spring & through much of the Summer.

                                    My impulse would be to get someone - friendly neighbor with equipment? - to disc that under for you.

                                    I never kept my horses off the pastures for any amount of time.
                                    Which means the money I spent on small pasture getting drill-seeded was a waste.
                                    But I was not in any hurry {shrugs} and 7 years later I have decent pasture.

                                    Your horses look happy to eat whatever's there while you are getting grass established.
                                    If you section off your pastures then maybe keeping them off until grass overtakes the clover would work better than my {ahem} "method".
                                    *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                                    Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                                    Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                                    Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by gumtree View Post
                                      KrazyTb well documented post. But you are in Florida, sandy soil, weird weather, hard to grow good hearty grass, totally different beast then Illinois.
                                      Yes I agree. I got the feeling that the OP was looking for ideas of what people do to maintain their small farms with grass, not looking for exact specifics of what to do at her place, hence the recommendation of the extension agent.

                                      Also, not sure if your clover is different than mine, but grass or clover? My horses are going STRAIGHT for the clover. They LOVE the clover and certainly dont eat it just because they have to. Come to think of it, all of my friends horses prefer clover too. Weird.

                                      Member of the ILMD[FN]HP Clique, The Florida Clique, OMGiH I loff my mares, and the Bareback Riders clique!


                                      • #20
                                        I know it is a pain, but one of the best ways of conditioning your fields is to pick up all manure every day.
                                        Divide your field into 3 or 4 smaller ones with electric fences - you should be able to get tape and standards and a battery run machine within your budget. Picking up manure and composting should take you about 15 mins max for 2 horses - it also means you get to check them each day and they can bond with you as you yell at them after they've tipped the full wheelbarrow over.