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Pasture maintenance 101?

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  • Pasture maintenance 101?

    Okay, I think we were lulled into a false sense of security...bear with me
    Moved to new property in new state (middle TN), brought horses home for first time. Were told property used to be part of larger cattle farm, definitely no livestock on it for at least 5-6 yrs, most likely longer.

    One horse & one pony have been in pasture for about 13 months. Turned out roughly 12 hrs a day. I don't know exact acreage size of turnout, would estimate about 2 (realize that is not supposed to be enough for 2 horses). One small turnout attached to larger one, 99% of the time they have free range of both. We expected small one to become dirt - it never did. We thought maybe they'd eat the pasture down - they never did. We mow it, to keep the weeds down and because it just seems to get too tall. For a long time, I picked the poops out of the field once/twice a week, stopped doing that in July when the grass was just too thick and it became too difficult. (Ext. office said should just drag the field instead).

    Last winter, there was only about 3 weeks where they ate hay outside, otherwise the grass was green practically all year; by the end of Feb, started growing again.

    It was last mowed in Sept. Sometimes use bushhog (don't have finishing mower), often use lawn tractor on highest setting. In Sept, I left the back half tall and just mowed the front half. After that, it seemed to be a golden-brown color (the entire field). It's pretty much stayed like that, though there are very small spots of green, they may just be weeds.

    Horses are definitely hungry, started eating more and more hay overnight and now we've had to start supplementing with hay during the day (last year they had no interested in hay outside until Jan).

    We have had a few frosts, but it was already brown before then. Everywhere I look outside of the horse field, there is nice green grass, except for our residential yard, which is also mostly very brown.

    Does this sound like the issue is the type of grass or that the field was overused/not maintained property, or both??

    I called the Ext. office, he felt that we had grass all year the first year because it had not been grazed on in so long, but now it's just been too much with 2 horses on a couple of acres and that's why it's dead. Said it's a little too late to seed now (suggested Sept/Oct) and said we should use fescue (no pregnant mares here), said we could fertilize in March, and lime anytime, said soil is generally acidic around here.

    Also said fescue needs to be at least 6-8" tall, so if I have damaged it by cutting it too low, that could be one problem. However, how do you leave it that tall and get the weeds?

    I am going to get a soil sample done and we are looking into fencing other areas of the property.

    So does it seem like we didn't maintain the pasture properly? I guess when we had nonstop grass for a year and constantly had to cut it, we really didn't think we had a need to do anything else. It seemed to us that the one field was sufficient for them.
    Or does it sound like perhaps we have a type of grass that goes dormant? The only grasses he mentioned were fescue and bermuda, he said if we had bermuda, it would be dead by now (which it is). When I asked him what grass seed we should use next year, he said fescue.

    Thanks for reading through all this and appreciate any advice.

  • #2
    I cannot really help, but it sounds odd to me. If the horses were overgrazing the field, the field would have no/very little grass left. And what grass was left would be very short. I've never heard of grass dying because it was grazed -- that is, turning brown but remaining 3 inches or more tall.
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    • #3
      Start by learning the different pasture grasses for your area and their growing habits. It sounds to me like you have Bermuda but had some sort of annual there last winter. Otherwise, not enough information.
      www.HistoricHousePreservation.com

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      • Original Poster

        #4
        Originally posted by SMF11 View Post
        I cannot really help, but it sounds odd to me. If the horses were overgrazing the field, the field would have no/very little grass left. And what grass was left would be very short. I've never heard of grass dying because it was grazed -- that is, turning brown but remaining 3 inches or more tall.
        That's what we thought also, that if we were having signs of overgrazing, there would be patches/no grass. When we boarded (in another state), that's how some of the fields looked - bare with weeds...This whole field is just a light brown/golden color. I am seeing some green coming back, but it's the spots where they never graze. The ext officer said we had an unusually high amount of rain this year and that we would have seen bare patches if we didn't have that much rain.

        I wish I could get the Ext officer to come out and look at the property, but I don't think he makes house calls .

        The only grasses he mentioned were fescue and bermuda. I guess what we can do is seed what we should have there (he said fescue) next year and then at least we'd know what we have - he said it's too late to seed now.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Gryhnd View Post

          I wish I could get the Ext officer to come out and look at the property, but I don't think he makes house calls .
          Ask him In NC, they do (or they should!). So unless he gives you a distinct reason why he can't come out to look at it himself (budget restrictions, travel distance, etc) then it could be that he just doesn't realize you want him to come out. Otherwise, perhaps you could take samples of your grass to the Extension office so they can ID it for you. (Take an entire plant sample with roots and all.)

          It's really difficult to make suggestions without knowing exactly what kind of grass you have. It does sound like there may have been a winter annual planted out there last year that gave you grazing throughout the winter and now that your summer grass is dormant there's just nothing actively growing. Definitely find out what kind of grass you have because it really makes a big difference as to how you should manage your pastures.
          "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles from the corn field." --Dwight D Eisenhower

          Boston Terrier Rescue of NC - www.btrnc.org - Adopt for Life!

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          • #6
            allso, hit up some of the old guys, farmers from your area, the dairy guy, at the feed store etc...

            They might have some idea about the grass.
            Originally posted by BigMama1
            Facts don't have versions. If they do, they are opinions
            GNU Terry Prachett

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            • #7
              I can tell you what I have here in VA. Doesn't help with your pastures there, but maybe you might see common issues.

              Moved horses home last year - March - needed to mow some because cool season grasses still tall and green (no grazing yet), and where they came from no grass because horses had grazed it all.

              I have mixture of Fescue and Bermuda. Rye is annual so need to plant every fall, and I do in areas of Bermuda because it browns up as days get colder. Bermuda is a warm season grass.

              Maybe you have Bermuda that was over seeded with Rye for the winter last year. BTW I love Bermuda for summer grazing - it's tough stuff and holds the grounds nice here in my clay soil.

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              • Original Poster

                #8
                If Rye has to be planted every year, then I guess there is no way we could have had rye last winter, as we were here for 2 yrs (here before the horses were) and we definitely did not seed, or do anything other than mow in the spring/summer. I am almost certain no one planted any grass there for quite a few years, the former owner was here since '03 and didn't do anything with it, didn't have animals, etc.

                It would definitely make sense that there was something growing all winter last year and that it's not there this year, except that no one planted anything

                It does seem like it could be Bermuda though if Bermuda dies in the fall, because it's not like the grass is gone, it's just goldish/dead, in contrast to other areas of the property.

                However, it does seem odd that the front field area (which is not yet fenced in, just have a roundpen on it), is alot greener. They are the same area except divided by a creek that is dry 98% of the time. So that would lend credence to the idea that the horses on it have done some 'damage' since certainly those 2 areas should be the same type of grass.

                I think I will ask Ext to come out, if he can combine it with another trip to the area maybe, or the suggestion of bringing a clump of grass is a good alternative, and maybe pictures also.

                Thanks, agree that we really need to find out what is growing here so we can manage it.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I'm in Middle Tn. If you're in Williamson Co. tell whatshisface at the ag office to hup to it and come out to your place. You want him not only to ID all your grasses, but also ID your weeds. That's the only way to come up with a comprehensive management plan.

                  There is a grass that my hay guy refers to as "barnyard grass" that has gone dormant in the last few weeks that I have a few patches of. Actually, I'm not sure if it's gone dormant or if it's an annual. I do know that it doesn't have much root system so in the winter it will quickly revert to mud with any traffic on it. Even though they will graze on it in the summer you probably want to get rid of it by overseeding in early spring.

                  My pastures are a mix of fescues, some orchard grass with a few spots of bermuda, and they are mostly green and nice looking right now.

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                  • #10
                    Do you have row crop farmers around?

                    This summer, a *!@#! crop duster sprayed something for either cotton or beans, which my pasture is in the middle of, and it drifted into the pasture and browned everything down to the ground. In the South, farmers aren't as concerned about drift and such as they are in other parts of the country. This is all part of their dislike of government and of restrictions on their liberty to do whatever they want to whenever they want to, while they hope that their neighbors won't have the guts or resources to make a stink.

                    In my case, the plane also got the farmer, so there were some repercussions. We know it couldn't have been lack of rain because everything, including my pasture, is irrigated.
                    "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                    Thread killer Extraordinaire

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                    • #11
                      quote: "If Rye has to be planted every year, then I guess there is no way we could have had rye last winter, as we were here for "

                      Rye is an annual. Annuals grow until they produce seeds once a season or until conditions get to the point that they stop growing. Left to their own devices, which they have been for milleniums, they will grow until they drop seeds and then when conditions are right next year, the seeds will sprout and the cycle goes again.

                      If something is there to eat the plant, like horses on pasture, before it can produce and drop seeds, the plants will die when conditions change (gets too hot for Rye), and it won't come back next year.

                      Bermuda turns brown after it goes dormant until next spring when the ground warms up enough. Horses will still eat the dormant Bermuda and can even pull it all up, roots and all, so you have none of that the next year either. This is especially a problem with some of the newer hybrids like Cheyenne.

                      We have Bermuda pastures. I always plant Rye the third week in September and clip the Bermuda real short so the horses don't pull it up. The Bermuda clippings help hold moisture down on the seeds much like straw spread on a newly sown yard.
                      www.HistoricHousePreservation.com

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                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        [QUOTE=subk;4489471]I'm in Middle Tn. If you're in Williamson Co. tell whatshisface at the ag office to hup to it and come out to your place. You want him not only to ID all your grasses, but also ID your weeds. That's the only way to come up with a comprehensive management plan.

                        No, we're in Cheatham. I paid a visit to the office before we had the horses home, thinking he'd come out and identify any toxic weeds for me. I will try again though.

                        Been doing some reading and it seems to us that the field must be Bermuda, since it is definitely dormant. What I don't understand is why every other area on the property doesn't look the same. That's what makes one think the horses have something to do with it...it's really baffling DH and I. In that particular area, inside the fence - brown. Outside the fence - green. One difference is outside the fence is partially shaded. I read Bermuda doesn't do well in the shade. Whatever type of grass grows in the shaded areas is the type we like much better in regards to mowing.

                        We are thinking that perhaps last year it was a mix of fescue and bermuda (or rye as Tom suggested). I've read that Bermuda and Fescue have different cutting requirements (Bermuda is supposed to be cut short) and also that Bermuda is very invasive (reading more about lawns than pastures).

                        No, no crop dusters that we have seen. Seems to be mostly tobacco grown around here. Agree there seems to be no concerns about polluting the air in the south though - burning trash, drying tobacco.

                        We have no irrigation but since it rains constantly, I don't think that is a problem.

                        Tom, thanks for the explanation about rye grass. Sounds like we should have planted rye in Sept, if we had only known...if we do have Bermuda, then guess nothing we can do for this winter but we should plant rye next fall for sure.

                        I just looked at some pictures from last Oct/Nov. I can see that there was some brown mixed in with the green which makes me think we had a grass mix last year and the mix is gone this year.

                        Last year, seemed that we only went about a month or two where the grass wasn't too good for grazing, I think by early March/late Feb I could just see the start of green again. If this is Bermuda, will it come up green again in Feb/March or do we have a longer wait?
                        In the meantime, trying to think if we can cheaply/quickly fence in another small field that is green so they have something. Otherwise they are going to break out of there!

                        Rodawn, thanks very much for your post. I had been picking up the manure and then spreading it an upper field (which we currently don't use for anything), but stopped doing that in July when the grass got too thick and it became too difficult to pick it up. Will definitely rig the chainlink drag. That'll be alot easier.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Well, this is far from organic, but. . .

                          Around here, bermuda goes dormant when the temperatures are under 50 degrees or so at night. It also doesn't green up until temperatures are over 50 degrees or so at night. (Not real sure what the exact line is, but it's close to 50.)

                          What the common method of controlling spring weeds here is is to spray Round Up in February while the bermuda is still dormant. The other spring vegetation will have sprouted but are still small. Round Up gets everything but won't kill the dormant bermuda because of the rhizomes underground. Then you come back a few weeks later with something like Pasture Pro, which is 2-4-D. If you have a place you can fence off for real pasture renovation, you can spray at two week intervals after rains with MSMA, which is an arsenic preparation. It kills everything but bermuda grass and greens it up nicely, but you can't put horses on it for at least two months.

                          Now this is the old fashioned way that commercial farmers use chemicals, and it might freak you out so that you wouldn't consider it.

                          Mowing regularly will help restore a pasture also. Theory is that the weeds never get to go to seed.
                          "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                          Thread killer Extraordinaire

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Tom King View Post
                            Rye is an annual. Annuals grow until they produce seeds once a season or until conditions get to the point that they stop growing. Left to their own devices, which they have been for milleniums, they will grow until they drop seeds and then when conditions are right next year, the seeds will sprout and the cycle goes again.

                            If something is there to eat the plant, like horses on pasture, before it can produce and drop seeds, the plants will die when conditions change (gets too hot for Rye), and it won't come back next year.
                            I think Tom solved the mystery It may have been planted earlier and was just reseeding itself until the horses got there.

                            The bermuda usually greens up around mid-March here on the coast so could be more like early to mid-April where you are.

                            And please don't use MSMA! As stated, it is an arsenic based product and has been linked to arsenic poisoning in cattle. It's not labeled for use in pastures anymore. (Actually it was planned to be phased out so may not even be available anymore.)
                            "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles from the corn field." --Dwight D Eisenhower

                            Boston Terrier Rescue of NC - www.btrnc.org - Adopt for Life!

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Tom King View Post
                              quote: "If Rye has to be planted every year, then I guess there is no way we could have had rye last winter, as we were here for "

                              Rye is an annual. Annuals grow until they produce seeds once a season or until conditions get to the point that they stop growing. Left to their own devices, which they have been for milleniums, they will grow until they drop seeds and then when conditions are right next year, the seeds will sprout and the cycle goes again.

                              If something is there to eat the plant, like horses on pasture, before it can produce and drop seeds, the plants will die when conditions change (gets too hot for Rye), and it won't come back next year.

                              Bermuda turns brown after it goes dormant until next spring when the ground warms up enough. Horses will still eat the dormant Bermuda and can even pull it all up, roots and all, so you have none of that the next year either. This is especially a problem with some of the newer hybrids like Cheyenne.

                              We have Bermuda pastures. I always plant Rye the third week in September and clip the Bermuda real short so the horses don't pull it up. The Bermuda clippings help hold moisture down on the seeds much like straw spread on a newly sown yard.
                              Tom King has always been right on in his suggestions about pasture.
                              Being a new 'southern' owner of property, I learned an awful lot about how I am going to manage my pastures from this one post. Thank you Tom King!
                              save lives...spay/neuter/geld

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                              • #16
                                Rye will sprout even if it's planted now or later. It just has to wait for the right conditions. 3rd week in September just works out right for here which will vary in different locations. We don't ususally get strong fronts coming throught until later in Oct.

                                Bermuda waits for the ground temps to get into the mid 60s to start growing again.

                                You see all sorts or different rates for pounds per acre of Ryegrass from lawns to patures. If the no-till drill is in my end of the county -maybe one year out of four-I'll drill 35 pounds per acre since every seed will sprout where it's drilled. For the other years, when I broadcast it, I'll spread 50 lbs. per acre since some will most of the time get washed away.

                                I like Marshall Ryegrass best as the blades are wider than what's typically sold for lawns so you get more forage per seed.

                                This year we had two days of "torrential drizzle" on our broadcast seeds and every one sprouted where it lay including some on bare hard ground under trees outside the pastures. There's alwyas some luck involved one way or the other with broadcast seeds. The Bermuda clippings help hold them in place for normal rains as well as saves it from being pulled up.

                                Rather than being exact on the 3rd week in September, I'll watch the weather forecast and make sure not to broadcast seeds if it looks like there is any possibility of a heavy washing rain.
                                www.HistoricHousePreservation.com

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                                • #17
                                  I have your exact same problem! We had lovely pasture for the first couple of years, then it's turned awful in the last two. In the summer, I've got grass when everywhere else is dry and awful, but from October through late April, it looks like it's been sprayed with defoliant We had our soil tested, but had come to the conclusion that maybe what we've got it crab grass (another warm season grass- great forage, but bad when the weather gets cold) and that it crowds out the bluegrass that we've over-seeded. My husband (the software engineer!) was suggesting that maybe we try renovating one pasture to grow strictly cool season grass and let the other be warm (we have ~6 acres total w/ 2 horses and one pony on them 18 hours a day). Thank you all for your insight!!

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                                  • #18
                                    I've got some fescue in one pasture. That is cool weather grass here and was planted over 75 years ago from when we used mules for farming. It just keeps coming back, year after year after year. Of course, it's the kind with endophytes, so would be awful for broodmares, but I haven't bred anything yet and if I do, will put the mare on a totally different pasture.
                                    "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                                    Thread killer Extraordinaire

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                                    • Original Poster

                                      #19
                                      Wow, this sounds very discouraging about Bermuda being dormant for so many months. From what I have read about it, it seems very difficult to get rid of, even if we wanted Fescue instead. I bet we have Bermuda everywhere that is in the sun, and as Tom suggested, we must have other grasses growing in those areas now because horses haven't grazed them and that's the only reason they are greener. Maybe it is worth a shot to try to sow some Rye now...if we just tried to do the very smallest area, we wouldn't waste too much money/time if it doesn't grow.

                                      Tom, where do you buy the seed - Tractor Supply or maybe Farmer's Co-op or feed supply/mill or does it need to be special-ordered? Would it work if we just used a hand spreader (the type you have for your lawn)? We don't really have any other equipment.

                                      No, I don't think I want to use any chemicals, I never even use fertilizer on my yard. We did mow regularly.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        I buy seed from Royster/Clark, a local farmers supply. Marshall will probably have to be special ordered now. Any kind of spreader will work. You can even cover small areas by hand.
                                        www.HistoricHousePreservation.com

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