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Question for small ranchette owners in CA....

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  • Question for small ranchette owners in CA....

    For the Californians.....

    We are buying a property with 3.5 acres of pasture. We don't have access to ag water, so it won't be irrigated (thus, only growing real grass in winter/spring)

    My question is.....is it worth rehabbing the pasture? It currently doesn't have stock on it, and is just 'wildland' looking. Weedy, some grass..some areas, not much grass.

    I was planning to have a farmer DISC, AMMEND, and SEED it. (the soil is heavy heavy clay, so I think I should add lime or ash or ?? Will ask local county extension office)

    But, since it will essentially become a dry lot for most of the year, is it worth doing that? I figured the best time to rehab it is before we bring the horses home. But is it worth doing at all?

    I love the idea of pasture management. Growing grass, rotating, resting portions of it, etc. But it's so small, and with 3 horses.....will it just be a barren, dry lot with not a speck of grass on it anyways?

    We will have an additional large sacrifice paddock that I plan to keep the horses in when the pasture is too wet (so as not to rip it up) And I also planned to save the front pasture from overgrazing.

    Is it a pipedream? Should I just "let it go' to ugly dry-lot and not do anything to rehab and maintain it?
    Equine & Pet Portrait Artist
    **Morgans Do It All**

  • #2
    Your main challenge to keep the pasture really nice is water. I think that if you keep the front and a paddock to keep them off of it when it is too wet, (and hopefully it will be too wet this winter) you won't have a lot of damage to the area. If you still plan on feeding hay year round there shouldn't be an over grazing problem.

    My advice is to live with it how it is through one year and then think about rehabing it next year. You will have a better idea of what your needs are and what you will need to do to meet them. Good Luck


    • #3
      I agree with SEP on this, especially with the amount of acres and depending on number of horses you will be putting in that pasture. Depending on what part of Bay Area you are moving to (micro climates that we have) AND especially what our winter brings. It wouldn't expect the land to currently have much on it - especially without irrigation and the fact that we are in our second year of drought.

      I'm in Livermore, and my pastures (before the current weather that we are getting) has mostly been a dry lot. Our first year here - winter 2005 (when we got a ton of rain), my pastures had so much grass...

      For the last two years, my pastures have been not much to look at - even during winter and spring. I have one pasture that I only use for hand grazing and even that has not been very good either, but now there bits of grass trying to grow.
      Anney Daugherty
      Winsmore Farm


      • #4
        3 horses on 3.5 acres... could be worth the expense to seed. Do you know the annual rainfall for your microclimate?

        I have two horses eating about a two acre pasture, with no sacrifice area... it does get pummeled in places, but there are sections that stay green. However, I'm probably in a wetter area, and I do add some water from a sprinkler.

        I have another section that can be pretty nice, that is just for my ponies. I restrict them to just a short time a day, and the grass can hold out until about August when it gives up the ghost.

        I am starting, though, with really good soil. I just hand seeded it. It definitely is better than the area that has not been seeded.

        I might suggest you divide it in half, and rotate them between the sacrifice and each pasture. The grass probably won't support them all 24x7, but horses really like grazing. For them, it is intellectually stimulating, kind of like reading a book, checking out each individual plant, deciding whether to eat it or not.

        The downside to discing and amending is that you might end up making the footing muddy and heavy, especially in the first year before the roots are established. If you need to be able to put horses on it before next fall, you might do better to overseed with a layer of topsoil, so that you don't disturb the root structure that is already there.
        If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


        • #5
          I wonder if you can use sprinklers on your pasture, from your well or whatever water source you have. It's much more efficient, especially on clay soil. (If you flood irrigate clay soil, the water sets there, then when it finally soaks in, the soil is boot-sucking wet for a long time thereafter.) And, if you plant Bermuda, you can easily get away with watering every two weeks.

          I think I'd have it disked and planted--but beware of putting horses on newly seeded grass the first year. As a matter of fact, you might want to have only one half done at a time.
          Barbaro Cultist, Metabolic Nazi


          • Original Poster

            Thanks all - I'll be feeding hay. Grass is just for entertainment

            Since we can't have real pasture (for feeding/diet)....the grass I'd love to have is for entertainment only. I plan to feed hay for thier diet.

            Thanks for all the suggestions! If I were to rehab it, I'd only do it a section at a time, as I know it takes awhile for new grass root structure to get strong, etc.

            I like the idea with living with it for a year. Maybe just overseeding, adding some soil, etc. The sacrifice paddock is huge...it's planned so that I can rest the pastures when it's too muddy or if it's being rotated, etc.

            It is small, but I like the idea of the horses having something to look for, nibble on, etc. It's very natural and good for them (even if it's not enough pasture to actually 'feed them')
            Equine & Pet Portrait Artist
            **Morgans Do It All**


            • #7
              I have a two-acre field for my horses here in Ojai (southern CA). I also have a separate seeded, irrigated paddock. The big field is irrigated only by Mother Nature, which means, as you know, lots of green in winter and spring and pretty dead summer into fall. But the horses always have something to munch on, so that's good enough. I do keep the irrigated paddock for "special" occasions, meaning they get to use it for an hour here, an hour there. Horses love the wild wheat grass that grows in winter. My horses eat hay for substance; the grazing is for entertainment purposes only. Keep an eye for bizarre and unfriendly weeds that might pop up, such as star thistle. And mustard is your enemy!!! Good luck.
              R.I.P. Ollie (2007-2010) You were small in stature but huge in spirit. You will never be forgotten.

              Godspeed, Benjamin (1998-2014). A life well-lived. A horse well-loved.


              • #8
                I was thinking about your problem while throwing some seed on my pasture last night, and the other reason I'm wary of discing is that it not only takes all of the shear strength out of your soil (meaning that you sink into the ground), but star thistle in particular loves freshly disturbed and disced ground. Mustard is annoying, but star thistle is toxic to horses, and I spend a lot of time on search-and-destroy missions looking for it and pulling it. It is worst in the most-disturbed soil, ie the places that we have disced to make galloping paths. Star thistle is invasive and even chemicals do not control it well. You can't just blanket with Roundup or whatever and expect it to die. It's only susceptible to chemicals during a very short window during the growth cycle. Easier to just pull the darn things. Fortunately, they are easy to pull when you spot them.

                Discing is the way to go when you don't really care about the strength of the ground - when growing hay, or lawn, or garden crops. Then you'll have people and wheeled vehicles treading across the ground, which do not tear it up the way horses do.

                So, I think if I were you, I would drill seed or broadcast overseed, add some compost or topsoil, but not disc. It seems that discs only kill the plants you want and not the ones you don't want.

                That said, I'm far from an expert, and what is right for my field might not be the correct answer for yours.
                If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                • #9
                  well my suggestion would be to knock the tops off any speed bumps, and just broadcast pasture seed. not sure where you are - but where i am (sonoma county) we were to have seeded etc by oct 15.

                  however, that said - i am still seeding by hand any bare spots that are out there.

                  and, if i may - i have some questions too. i have about 1.75 acres of "pasture" ... i want to be able to graze the horses as much as possible to reduce hay costs. i have 3 horses.

                  my questions are: what would be the best division of the land? should i just split in two and rotate? should each horse have its own "pasture"?

                  can i expect the grass to be viable if i keep them turned out on on the grass all day ? or will it only handle like an hour a day?

                  what is your fave pasture seed mix?

                  i am happy to irrigate when the time comes

                  i have sandy loan soil.

                  any input appreciated!


                  • #10
                    I wouldn't disc the pasture unless you can irrigate it year round because that, ime, is the only way to keep the star thistle from taking over. Or not taking over the high ground in our case. I hate that stuff!

                    ps goats won't eat it, don't bother trying.


                    • #11
                      Hmm, my goats eat star thistle? You can't wait to put them on it until fall when it's big and stalky but if you put them on it in the spring, you won't have it.

                      We're blessed with a lot of acreage, especially by CA standards, so we practice some rotation, and we seed it religiously, though irrigation is not the budget. Still in most years they have something to munch on year round.

                      I have a client with about the amount of acreage you're talking about, and she does two thing which seems to give her swaths of grass year round:

                      !) she invested in these big stand sprinklers (they're about 4-5 feet tall, but pretty light and portable). She said they were about $100 at the home depot, and she can do hr own irrigation using them. She can do about an acre ata t time by placing them carefull, and in the summer she'll move them every three days.

                      2) to help facilitate the use of the above she also invested in one of those temporary hotwire pens (with the white tape and the step in posts) like endurance riders use. She uses it to block off the acre she's watering, leaving her other 3 acres available for her horses. Since there is always something edible for them, they don't mess with it, and one good shock reminds them why.

                      They do always have hay available, but this system works for her. I think her total investment was around $700 for sprinklers, hoses and the hotwire stuff.
                      Phoenix Farm ~ Breeding-Training-Sales
                      Eventing, Dressage, Young Horses
                      Check out my new blog: http://califcountrymom.blogspot.com


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by PhoenixFarm View Post
                        !) she invested in these big stand sprinklers (they're about 4-5 feet tall, but pretty light and portable).
                        i LOVE these!!!! i have them for my arena.... and they work fab! the critical factor is finding a GOOD "rainbird" type sprinkler- i have had a hard time finding goods ones that work well.

                        as for hoses - what i did, since my arena is in the back of my property - is that i laid PVC pipeline down the length of my property and then took horse from this pipeline to my arena. i will also put "outlets" to attach hoses for my irrigaton when needed. this works really well - was super easy (i could do it) and cheap.


                        • #13
                          There are a lot of options for sprinklers, but it's not a given that a property has enough water to run them off of the existing rights at all or affordably. Still, you can usually manage a little bit here and there, which will help, even if it's just a garden hose and a rainbird a few times a month in summer.

                          If you only have one well, you have to be careful. It's possible to run a small well dry with a sprinkler.
                          If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                          • #14
                            Here is some on that weed:


                            It is poisonous to horses, although not to cattle or goats and grazing them can help control it, as it reads if you scroll down.


                            • #15
                              That UC Davis page about star thistle isn't all that useful for managing with respect to horses. I'm surprised that it says anything positive about chemical control, because the conventional wisdom here (backed up by experience) is that chemicals are basically useless against it. (They may be useful if you have a whole field of it and you're starting from scratch.) Discing is effective if you have a whole field of them and don't want to look at the plants, but it's useless for pasture with a mild to moderate infestation like you might get from discing and seeding: discing creates ideal habitat for years-old dormant star thistle seeds to come back, and it will come back faster than the grass will.

                              They are testing a fungus against it that may be helpful.

                              My veterinarian say they've had success by grazing sheep on it, or by cutting it for hay and feeding it to sheep.
                              If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket