Here's what's been occupying my waking thoughts recently and I would love any opinions from you people out there. I am new to pasture management, especially pasture management in Alberta, so any education you can give me before I have conversations with my local farmer would be appreciated.
I have for the horses:
~ A winter horse pasture, about five acres of good grass, with a marshy snow-melt pond corner. Great for the winter but my three good-doers will be obese and suffering from laminitis if I don't restrict their grazing here in the summer. I have done strip grazing before in my life but I don't really like the way this restricts space and movement so I am considering a paddock paradise grazing strip all the way around.
~ A hay field, about four acres that produces two hay cuts. The second cut produced 7 good firm big round bales. I don't know how much more the first cut produces as it was done before we arrived. The hay field is a mix of grass and alfalfa, about 20% alfalfa.
~ A summer wooded starvation paddock of weeds and trees with no good grass
This winter being my first with these horses in this climate I was a bit clueless to say the least on how much hay they would need. I over fed them at the start of winter so went through my hay quicker than I should have.
I would say that all things being equal, and if next winter is no worse than this one, my seven round bales from my hay field SHOULD get me through next winter. However, next winter may be bad, I have to have a stronger plan than that.
I had already bought in some small bales in the autumn 'just in case' but it turns out that the alfalfa level in these is way too high for my donkey, and unnecessarily high for my two good-doer Canadians. So this week I found a lovely supplier of mixed grass hay who I will probably buy 40 to 60 bales from. I have plenty of dry storage space. So hurray my spare hay problem is now sorted!
My hay field stands empty and unused after it has been cut the second time. Watching my horses dig in the snow all winter it did occur to me that if I fence this field in I can use the hay field stubble as an additional winter paddock next winter. That should delay the need to start putting hay out by about 6 to 8 weeks I think.
I would LOVE to do my own hay, so that I can keep both cuts. But I don't own the cutting, turning, or baling equipment and I think the $5k -$6K I would probably need to spend would not be a good investment!! I am lucky that a local farmer does think it's worth his while coming in to do my piddly little field otherwise I really would be stuck.
So I think that my plans for the spring are:
1 - put in an inner fence around my big pasture, the fatties will graze the outer ring all summer thus saving the pasture for winter, and hopefully saving them from obesity.
2 - fence in the hay field so that I can put the horses on it in the winter.
3 - ask my farmer if he will take the second cut and I have the first cut.
Farmer might not want to swap cuts, I'll have to live with this so long as there always IS a second cut
Farmer might throw me a curve ball and tell me that winter grazing of the hayfield will somehow damage the next years hay crop?