We’ve got three pastures. Eighteen horses. Some boarded, some owned. That last part doesn’t matter, cause they all like to eat grass. Our goal is to have healthy pastures and healthy horses, so we rotate the herd from pasture to pasture.
So, three pastures – one we call our winter pasture which doesn’t make a lot of sense because we live in Illinois and there is no real grass in winter. But, it has cool season grasses planted in it like Orchard Grass, Timothy Grass and Kentucky Bluegrass. Also Virginia Wild Rye and Canada Wild Rye. It is happiest in the Spring and Fall when the temperatures in Illinois are cool or worse.
This is an arial view of our winter pasture, at a time when there isn’t too much grass growing yet.
The next pasture we call our summer pasture because it is filled with warm season/natural/native grasses. If I could plant all our pastures with native grasses, I would. They are prairie grasses, native to this area and they just understand Illinois and all it’s fickle weather conditions and it decides to grow anyway. We have Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, and Canada Wild Rye in there. Intermingled and sometimes taking over in areas, we planted forbs. Some would call them wild flowers, some would call them weeds. Their more naturalistic name is forbs. Things like Black Eyed Susan, Yarrow, Culvers Root, Wild Quinine. Oh and don’t forget clover, both white and purple. We have that in both pastures. The horses do eat all of them from time to time, depending on what they need.
The summer pasture is a true wild meadow and it’s good for the earth and good for the animals, birds and insects that frequent it. It does best in hot/sunny weather though. In the cool Spring months it takes longer to grow, so in order to have a longer grazing season, we have the cooler season grasses in our other pasture.
This video is Flash running out into the summer pasture.
The third area we call the Hay Field because we originally planned to use it for hay, but after the first year, we realized we needed the extra pasture for rotation. Two wasn’t enough to give the grass enough time to recover after the herd had been eating in it.
This video below is the herd coming in from the hay field, going up to our arena where we feed grain and supplements.
So, the reason for having three pastures is that we rotate the horses on and off them. Lately, each pasture has had the horses in it for about two weeks. After those two weeks, we rotate the herd to another pasture. Ideally, we like the grass to be close to shin or knee height. That doesn’t always happen, but the longer it is, the less sugar and the better it is for horses. Unlike pastures for cows and other livestock, we aren’t trying to fatten our horses up, so we want low energy pastures. We want nutrition, so it can’t be too long, but if it’s too short, it contains more sugars which equals fat horses and sometimes diseases such as Insulin Resistance and Laminitis.
Horses like to graze in patches too. They find their favorite areas and go back to those, eating it down very short and leaving other areas long. Rotation allows those high traffic areas to rebound. If you allow the horses on there all summer, those areas get eaten down and sometimes the grass can’t recover.
Our pastures aren’t lush. There are bare spots and they don’t always look so pretty, but that’s okay. Horses really shouldn’t be on lush pasture. We want to encourage movement by walking from patch to patch and eating here and there.
It can be hard trying to maintain the pastures and hoping/praying the grass gets long enough and the horses don’t eat it all down in a day. We are still learning, but this year the grass has come in the best it has in the three years we’ve been here and the horses seem happy.