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Dividing Pastures

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  • Dividing Pastures

    I know pasture management has many variables, but I'm hoping someone can give me a general guideline for how large my pastures should be. I live in SE Virginia and have pretty lush pastures. My horse is currently stalled at night and grazes all day. Right now my total pasture area is 3.3 acres. It's currently divided into one 1 1/2 acre pasture and another almost 1 3/4 acre pasture. Only the larger of the two is fenced with electric fencing at this time. The back one will be done soon.

    I currently only have one horse, but will soon have another one. The current one is an easy keeper and he grazes all day with a grazing muzzle. The new horse will more than likely eat more because he/she will be exercised heavily to prepare for hunter/eventing. We also plan to accept boarders soon and based on number of stalls, can have up to nine horses total. I'm not sure if my land will support that many if I want them to be pastured as much as possible, though.

    Question-how large should each of the pastures be if I intend to utilize rotational grazing and how many horses can I put on each section? My plan is to divide each pasture in half, giving me four total pastures, each one being roughly 3/4 of an acre. The remaining 1/3 acre on the front pasture might be turned into a small arena. As an example, can I put four horses on a 3/4 acre pasture and rotate them every X number of days/weeks?

  • #2
    No, 3 horses per acre won't have free choice or even a great deal of grazing time. 1 horse per 2 acres is generally considered what's needed for pasture to provide all the forage, assuming there's good enough grass and it's not sparse. 1 horse/acre can be done if it's well-managed, but hard.

    4 horses in 3/4 acre will turn it into a dry lot in no time if they're out there even 12 hours a day.

    With 9 horses on 3 acres you're looking at maybe a total of 6-8 horse-hours grazing a day. So, think in terms of maybe 2 hours a day on grass, each horse. Even then, assuming 4 horses in 3/4 acre lots, you're looking at rotating them probably weekly, giving each lot 1 week to rest. You'll have to play it by ear - maybe in the fast-growing months you can rotate every other week, giving each lot 2 weeks to rest.

    But no, you can't have even 8-12 hours a day of 4 horses on 3/4 acres and expect to have any real grass. You can DO that, of course, to give them as much turnout as possible, but with a few possible exceptions in Spring and maybe Fall, you'll be tossing hay in those lots most of the Spring-Fall, and of course all Winter.

    You will need to pull them off those lots if it's wet, as 4 horses will quickly turn it into a mud pit if they get running.
    The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


    • #3
      I was nodding my head and figuring for you, right up till you said "board 9 horses".

      I started reriding at a CA facility (where grass is at a premium anyway) that consisted of 6 acres divided into six paddocks,half acre to two acre in size, a twelve stall barn and two arenas, a five acre leased pasture and probably 30 horses. They had grass alright, on the lawn for looks.

      At home in KY we keep two, with three one acre paddocks and some serious slopes, we also turn them out on the tractorways. Our front two paddocks are taking a beating, and with a slope rain is worse than JB says - even with space, on a slope (or while running) horses will slip and each time that happens they make a divot or skid. Maybe you can put a divot back and it'll regrow but a skid tears the roots right out of the ground and mangles them - so there's a little grass free spot. And then another and another. So then there's mud.
      When I got the place I checked out the neighbor's seven acre pasture, where they had put two mares and their offspring during a drought without subdividing or resting any of it. I can only describe it as seriously degraded.

      We have a future expansion area planned to double our pasture size but trees have to be removed and a few other things - like we have to find time.

      You can give them space for freedom of movement but there won't be enough grass to provide their only forage.
      Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
      Incredible Invisible


      • #4
        Personally I think 3/4 of an acre is too small for anything but a sacrifice area. I think that between 1-2 acres is a very nice paddock size.

        If you are wanting to maximize the number of horses on your property, rotational grazing on small acreage is not the best plan for you because it requires you to rest part of your acreage. If you are not relying on the grass for feed, you might be better served to manage your paddocks a little more intensively but for the most part keep horses on them almost all the time. Frankly, if you have horses in grazing muzzles, your horse care will be easier if your fields are a little more on the eaten down side.

        The main thing I would recommend for you is to create one smaller, sturdily fenced sacrifice paddock that you can turn your horses out during very wet times of the year so your horses don't tear up your smaller acreage. Also it's a place to put the horses when you are reseeding, fertilizing, or spraying for weeds.

        Boarding 9 horses would not be impossible. Some people do want their horses stalled 24/7, or just out for a few hours each day. But, if you are looking to keep 9 horses with as much t/o as possible, no that isn't going to be compatible with your current acreage.


        • #5
          My ring is 100x180, so *very* roughly 1/2 acre. Adding another 50% to it is really a bit more than just a sacrifice paddock. However, 4 horses in it would need to get along VERY well, and it will still take good rotational management to keep any grass on it. 1-2 hours a day, tops and even then it might not last long.

          But yeah, 9 horses and 3 acres means hand grazing and brief turnout a day.
          The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


          • Original Poster

            We have nine stalls, but don't plan to use them all unless our land will support it. I would love to purchase some of the neighbors land, but we'll have to see about finances. We definitely need it to do what we want, but is it feasible at this time? We also have access to another 1/2 -3/4 acre parcel on the back of our property, but we have a metal equipment building in the middle of it and that's also where our manure pile is currently kept. That may be where the cow eventually ends up.

            I guess I'm thinking we should leave each of our pasture as they are, at the 1 1/2 acre size, and not divide them any further. We'll put two horses on the front one and see how it goes.

            Another question-What to do in the winter? Is is okay for the horses to be out on the pasture in the winter if I provide them hay in a large feeder? Will they trash the pastures, or should the pastures hold up over the winter even with them on it?


            • #7
              So with 3 acres, your land will never be able to support more than two horses, unless you want to keep them on dry lots. That is not the end of the world, my trainer does this, and I do think it is better than keeping horses in stalls 22 hours a day, which is the alternative.

              Of course you can keep horses outside in the winter! They will need shelter, which they may have, but you don't mention it. In order to keep the fields looking good I would create a 100 x 100 sacrifice paddock within one of the fields, with run-ins if you are using them. That way if it is really muddy they can tear that area up and not the rest of the fields. I'm farther north than you, and the problem with winter is that the grass (obviously!) is not growing, so any damage or overgrazing really affects the field. Snow cover, on the other hand, protects it.

              At least based on your posts on this thread I'd urge you to put all thoughts of boarding horses out of your head for at least a few years so you can learn your property and what it can and can't do, and also learn as much about horse care as possible.
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              • #8
                3 acres could support 3 horses for part of the year if it's REALLY good pasture and you are meticulous about picking manure, seeding, fertilizing, and getting them when it's wet. You'll still be haying for probably 5-6 Winter months, and probably July/August as that horse/acreage number just won't provide enough forage except during the nicely growing seasons.

                And yes, you can keep horses out there in the Winter but trust me, if they get running on a couple of acres, they can tear it UP in a big hurry - a year's worth of work gone in a few minutes.

                I agree on not boarding for a while. I'd wait at least a full year, if not 2-3, to cycle through all the seasons, and toss out any data related to "great conditions", ie wetter, cooler Summer LOL
                The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


                • #9
                  I've read your other threads on COTH, and so I first say "welcome to COTH" -- it is a fantastically valuable resource, as you are seeing.

                  Second, I see you have absolutely NO experience with horses and a 13 year old daughter who's been riding for 4 years. I'd urge a giant step back in your thinking. You don't know what you don't know -- you and your daughter need a LOT more education.

                  Might I suggest Pony Club, which teaches you about horse care as well as riding. You need some mentors, no matter what, but especially if you are planning on keeping horses at home. Find a reputable trainer -- and this will be difficult as I don't think you have the perspective to tell if someone is reputable or not -- but find a reputable trainer who can help you and your daughter. You both need lessons. The trainer can help you find the horse(s) you are looking for. One point -- many trainers charge a commission, and this puts their interests at odds with yours in that the higher the purchase price the higher their commission. My trainer charges an hourly fee to look at horses, so that her fee is the same if the horse is free or if it costs $50,000. Find one that operates along those lines. Find one that nurtures young riders and finds opportunities for them. Pony Club has good values and odds are if a trainer is affiliated with them they share Pony Club values.

                  Good luck!!
                  Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/peonyvodka/


                  • #10
                    Just for reference

                    The barn I am at has a 4-5 acre pasture, 5 rail pipe fencing, with 7 horses on it 12 hours a day. They are grained in the morning and at night and have hay in their stalls. Outside, they feed a roundbale at all times. The pasture is eaten to the ground and half of it is now a dry lot. We have very good ground here.

                    In the winter horses need shelter, hay, and a good water source. Feed a free-choice mineral year round. Most will need grain.

                    I would not board 9 horses on 3 acres, but if you do, you are looking at turnout pens, stall time, and should consider strong, safe fencing.
                    DIY Journey of Remodeling the Farmette: http://weownblackacre.blogspot.com/


                    • Original Poster

                      We are definitely finding out just how much we don't know. I knew going into this that I didn't know much and have been eagerly devouring everything I can get my hands on. I've gone to several tack shops in the area and asked tons of questions as well. I don't plan to start boarding until I have horse care figured out (and there will always be things I will learn as I go). A big reason for getting a companion horse so soon was for the real-life experience. Unfortunately, we allowed our emotions to get in the way and chose the wrong horse. We will be more cautious in the future and hope to end up with a winner for our family situation.

                      From what I can see, horse people are quite picky about their horses. I can completely understand that because I'm very picky about my dogs and cat. Even having our horse for just two weeks showed me just how particular I am going to be in regards to their care. In order to attract quality boarders, I need to know my stuff. Since I don't want to attract undesirable boarders, I need to learn as much as I can so good boarders will find me competent.

                      We are considering Pony Club, but unfortunately don't have a trailer at this time. They require you to trailer in for lessons and clinics, so we'll have to wait until we can find an affordable trailer. I'm not sure how much horse knowledge it involves, but we are also highly considering joining an IEA team.


                      • #12
                        I would also suggest getting in touch with your local Extension Agent. Thye usually know a lot about oasture management.

                        chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


                        • #13
                          As a horse parent(someone whose riding daughter got the family into horses) I cannot recommend Pony Club enough, especially with a 13 year old rider where the horse care expertise and parenting dividing lines are seriously blurred. This gets amplified when trailering horses. I am pretty sure that you can participate in Pony Club without a trailer; and should be able to share trailering with someone until you get your own trailer.
                          It is difficult to attract "quality boarders" without a fair amount of horse knowledge and exposure. Participation in Pony Club and/or 4 H will accomplish that.


                          • #14
                            Agree with Rabtfarm, why not join Pony Club and if you can't get your horse to them, at least participate in the unmounted portion, which is a very big part of Pony Club. You can even compete in knowledge competitions, called Quiz. Once you start participating I suspect the trailering can be figured out.
                            Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/peonyvodka/


                            • #15
                              I would stick with the two horses you have, and I would divide your pasture in half to allow rotation. When left on the entire thing, they will eat the good bits to nothing and then waste the rest. Once they've chosen a poop area, they don't eat there. Horses are very wasteful in the pasture.

                              It's nice that you want to board, but not too many people would be keen on boarding their horse with a relatively inexperienced horseman. And with the limited land, you won't be able to support 9 horses on 3 acres unless you decide to turn all of them into dry lots, and feed hay all year.