Considering all the opinions in this thread, I want to follow up on my previous post to show how we operate our small place. We have 4 mares on 5 acres, divided into 3 pastures.
1) Most important. They have a free choice round bale (~800 lbs) of quality fescue/orchard available at all times, and this is their main source of food
. It lasts between 6-7 days in the winter to 3+ weeks in summer.
2) The pastures for grazing have benefits other than nutrition. It gives them a variety of forage and keeps them moving and busy, good for the feet, gut, and mind. It also keeps me from having to mow all that.
3) The mares 'live' in the main pasture, and we limit access to the other 2 to 4-5 hours a day.
4) How much grass/forage you can maintain is very dependent on your location and weather
. Where we are, feeding hay and limiting grazing to 4-5 hours a day keeps them from becoming dry lots/mud pits.
5) Our pastures are 'natural', I.e. Not seeded or fertilized and have plenty of weeds/less palatable grass. Again, the good side is that this keeps the mares moving and busy rather than standing in one spot eating lush grass all day. I do mow the stuff they don't eat to prevent it from choking out the 'good' grasses.
6) Even their main pasture maintains enough ground cover to keep it from being muddy/dry lot except for the area around their round bale and shelter. In practice, the most 'destruction' is from the horse foot traffic, not over grazing.
Main (24x7) pasture (before mowing the spring pesky buttercups)
The 'sacrifice' area around their round bale (just out of the pic on the left) in the main pasture.
The 2 limited access pastures
As you can see, they are not lush grass pastures, but they are not dry lots or mud pits, and the mares are ready at the gate every morning to get turned out in them and enjoy their grazing.
Bottom line...with the right climate and management
it can be done if you feed hay
, and it is not hard
BTW, in our county, there are no government limits/restrictions on farms animals/acre. Some areas do have HOAs and/or covenants/deed restrictions that may impose limits.