The field we are leasing has been planted in corn for many years. We now had to decide what is the best way to plant grass? Should we till, should we leave the corn debris? Should we broadcast seed? Should we drill it in? What kinds of grass should we plant? I did tons of research on grasses. We want to make our pasture as diverse and native as possible. Like a wild meadow. I contacted some farm agencies, and some conservation agencies. Neither had much experience with horse pastures. Farm agencies mostly focus on livestock like cattle and sheep and goats and conservation agencies concentrate on prairie restoration, but don’t generally use livestock. They tend to use controlled burns to keep invasives out and maintain hardy grasses and forbs or wild flowers.
I talked to Taylor Creek Restoration Nursery in Wisconsin about grass seed and what prairie grasses are best in this area. They were extremely helpful.
I also contacted Openlands, a Lake County, Ill conservation group. They came out and brought a grass specialist and a farm specialist. Again, no one had much experience with horses.
I had been reading books about the Equicentral System developed by a couple based in Australia. They talk exclusively about horse pasture, how to maintain it, grow it. Everything about horse pasture. It’s a wealth of great information. I also liked their Facebook page and many of the posts are very helpful. From them, we decided it was best to set up rotational grazing. The grass specialist from Openlands suggested five pastures, but we wanted them big enough for horses to move and run if they wanted because I believe movement is essential to keeping horses healthy, along with a diverse pasture.
I wanted as much native prairie grasses as possible, which tends to be mostly warm-season grasses, because those handle the weather conditions in this area best, and are great and natural for horses. They take a few years to really grow though. The first few years, native grasses focus mostly on their deep root growth and little on tall grass. We are bringing horses onto the land in September and need some of it to grow faster. We decided on three pastures. One 10-acre pasture is cool-season, non-native grasses, Timothy, Orchard, Kentucky Bluegrass which should grow fast. I also added Native Virginia Wild Rye and Canada Wild Rye which are two cool season native grasses that grow well in Northern Illinois and I hope grow faster. This pasture we plan to use in Spring and Fall.
Then another 10-acre pasture is native, warm season grasses. We have Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, Side Oat Grama, Canada Wild Rye and Prairie Dropseed. This pasture we plan to use in Summer. We don’t plan on using it for grazing till next summer, if we can?
Then we have a 5-acre pasture we plan to either use as pasture or as hay or both. We aren’t sure how it will work out. This has Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, Switchgrass, June grass and Canada Wild Rye, which are all native grasses. I was told horses like Switchgrass better as hay than as growing grass.
The Openlands people also recommended no-till and drill in the seed. We had hoped to plant the seed ourselves to save money, but I couldn’t find a grass drill seeder to rent. And I found out renting a tractor around here isn’t cheap either. So we ended up hiring Applied Ecological Services, who works with Taylor Creek Restoration Nurserys which is where we bought the seed.
They brought out a tractor and a drill. It took them three days to plant all the seed.
I was panicking because they got delayed from rain and it was getting later and later into April. Finally at the end of April, it was all planted. I couldn’t see any of the seed though. Was it there? Was it going to grow? Will the corn debris be in the way? Did we pick the right grass seed? If the grass doesn’t grow then we have big problems. It’s very nerve-wracking.
We went out last weekend (May 13) and there were little pieces sticking up here and there, but not much.
My daughter, Rachael went out last night (May 17) after we’d had quite a bit more rain and more was growing! It’s still not a ton, but it’s growing.
Between the two dandelions, you can see some . Ok, you have to squint.