How much pasture per horse? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 8 Old 01-31-2010, 08:45 AM Thread Starter
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How much pasture per horse?

How much pasture space is needed per horse for grazing and waste management purposes? I have 2 horses now and limited space so I clean my paddocks daily. However, this seems quite unrealistic with a large number of horses, so you'd need a large enough space that the poop can decompose and the grass can grow well, I just don't know how much space that is.

Also, I know that in a large field, most horses will pick a community spot that they all poop in. Would this eventually need to be cleaned so that it doesn't get too large, killing all the grass and attracting excessive bugs?
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post #2 of 8 Old 01-31-2010, 08:54 AM
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If the grass is good 1 to 1 1/2 acres per horse will keep the grass growing faster then the horse can eat it.
Less and over the months the grass will become too short and you will have to start feeding hay.
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post #3 of 8 Old 01-31-2010, 09:01 AM
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It's best if you cross fence so you can graze one section and rest the other.

I rotate my two paddocks, and drag the resting paddock with a homemade harrow when I move the horses off of it. I don't pick manure out of the paddocks; rotating and dragging does the job. This is good for parasite control as well as good for the grass. I have about 5 1/2 acres inside fence; and two horses and a tiny pony. They are out on pasture 24/7, and I feel stongly that this is the maximum my pasture will support with good pasture management. If they were stalled part of the day I could probably add another animal and still maintain the pasture decently. If you had less pasture/more horses you could manage if you were willing to poop pick the paddocks.

Also, this imy management routine is possible because the pasture was in excellent shape before I put horses on it. If you're trying to rehabilitate currently in use pasture, you'll have to go with lower head count.

Last edited by maura; 01-31-2010 at 09:03 AM.
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post #4 of 8 Old 01-31-2010, 11:07 AM
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So much depends upon the quality of the ground.
Is it on the flat or does it slope?
How long has it been used for horses?
What is your method of husbandry?
What is the climate like all year round?
There can be no hard and fast rules.

In the UK we can take 1 -1.5 acres per horse providing the field is flat and the sub surface relatively hard and horses have not turned the field sour.
But good management means that the field must be kept free of dung by collection and that the field should be divided up with electrified tape, especially in the grass growing season. In the UK one also has to watch for toxic weeds.

Then there is also the question of whether the horse has a stable to sleep in.
Field shelters, even a small copse of leafy trees can be utilised for shelter but
nothing replaces a loosebox type of stable - of minimum size 12ft x 12ft.

Most continental Europeans keep their sports horses permanently in stables and let them out for a few hours each day. The horse's diet is carefully controlled and the role of the field is for relaxation and not for feeding.

I would never rely on paddock grass alone for feeding - it is not a constant source of food - in the Spring there is too much; in the winter too little. In the Summer it is too green and fresh; after a frost it is too sugary. It may lack in minerals such as magnesium. The owner has no control over calorie intake and cannot provide a balanced and constant diet. For humans we say "we are what we eat" - that saying applies to horses as well. A horse's behaviour is strongly influenced by its diet.

In the old days, in cities they kept horses divided by swinging bars in stables.
The horses were tied to the wall by the head. The British Cavalry - especially the Horse Guards used this system to manage their magnificent horses until relatively recently. Go visit the stables in London.

Horses were "stalled". The horses went off once a year to camp out in the country where they were allowed access to grass. Feeding was a separate issue. The horses would have been fed 3 or 4 times a day with selected feed stuffs including very carefully chosen hay. Hay varies in calorific value - some hays can even be toxic if they contain weeds such as cut ragwort. Musty or dusty hay can give chest problems.

I have taken the decision that my horse's field is primarily to give her exercise and stimulation. I feed her regardless - it is just that at some times in the year she gets more bulk but fewer calories. She is fed according to work load and temperature. The belly tape and my eye always tells me when she's eating too much. She is restricted at the moment because the new 2010 sugar rich grass is coming through and that could induce laminitis. Anyway she has run around the field, which is currently too wet and has churned it up with her steel shod feet. The third of the one acre hillside field which she is not normally allowed access to looks good but she can't have access to it. The huzzy has twice broken through the electric fence divider. That retained area will be released to her in March - in narrow strips but she'll lose each day as much area as she gains each day.

If I had access to it, then I would keep DiDi, a silky Irish Draught with Thorobred blood in her veins, in an undivided big barn, surfaced by wood chips and absorbent wood power. She'd live along with other carefully selected mares with whom she did not fight. She'd be extracted from the barn to be fed night and morning. She'd sleep overnight in her own loose box. She'd only be let out on the pasture with other horses when the field was dry and the sun was shining. She'd always wear a lightweight rug with a hood to keep her dry and clean. She'd be kept away from all geldings when in season. As I have written in another thread - I would be her jailer if I had the facilities.

If I still had Joe, a tough hairy cob gelding, I'd leave him out in a field in which was a substantial wood field shelter - affording shelter from the rain and wind from whichever direction it blew - together with a companion horse or pony.
Either the field shelter would be mobile or I'd pay especial attention to the location and the composition of the floor of any fixed shelter. He'd be left unclipped. He'd be given nightly one substantial meal of pasture mix and additives. If the grass got too poached or wet then I'd leave him with hay, loose on the ground. But unkempt Joe was used to living out on a hillside.

Collection of the dung is important - it should be left to convert to compost and taken away regularly by a farmer. In the UK the management of any commercial compost heap is subject to local inspection. Uncollected dung sours any field and provides a habitat for worms, flies and bots. Horses won't eat grass which has been staled by dung or urine. It is a good idea to allow sheep to graze pasture retained solely for horses. Sheep eat everything green which a horse will leave behind. Such sheep taste good.

So your question is difficult to answer - there are too many variables. First decide on your system of husbandry based on the facilities available to you. But lose the idea you can leave the horse out in the field to fend and feed for himself - they don't make them like that these days. You guys however do still have mustangs - I'm told they fend for themselves. Bliss.

But welcome to the horse owners club. This subject ain't easy to get right.

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post #5 of 8 Old 01-31-2010, 11:23 AM
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Lily, I have just reread your original post.

Geldings seem to poop in one area - but a dominant gelding poops to warn other geldings of his territory.

Mares poop anywhere - it seems sometimes deliberately.

My girl definitely leaves some areas poop free because that is where her favourite weeds grow.

Pick it up - spreading it helps but the flies still find it. Machines are made to vacuum it up.

Faeces and urine are acidic - you'll need to rebalance the acidity of the soil at some time by spreading lime.

You'll also need to reseed from time to time.
Watch out for poisonous plants which vary in type from region to region.
It is a good idea to use Round-up every now and again to restart a badly poached field. The use of a restarted field must be watched - it might prove to be too rich for the horses.
In truth nothing beats field rotation - ie allowing cattle, sheep or geese or to clear out the rubbish.

The husbandry of grass is a high tech subject. Talk about it with an old , bearded, bespeckled, hunched backed, farmer found smoking a pipe with a dog at his heels leaning over a fence. Do you still have such guys - we do.
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post #6 of 8 Old 01-31-2010, 12:25 PM
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The amount of area/horse will vary depending on location and type of grace and so much more. Around here I can keep 5 horses on about 4-5 acres. However I do quite a bit of work to keep every thing nice. Like no horses are out of the grass this time of year. They are all dry lotted and hayed.

In the summer they go out in the grass pastures at about 7-8 am and stay out there until about 11pm. Then they come into the dry lot areas and have a bit of hay. Really saves the grass that way I have good pasture up until almost nov.

Through out the summer I rotate pastures. Clean the areas that needed mow the pastures and drag them to brake up what ever did not get cleaned up. I also use Lime in the areas where they make the most manure and keep the pastures fertilized properly and at times that means taking soil samples into the county extension for testing. This really pays off bit time.

Good maintenance is the key really no matter how many horses on how much land

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Last edited by iridehorses; 01-31-2010 at 11:50 PM.
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post #7 of 8 Old 01-31-2010, 10:30 PM
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It really does depend on where you live. Lush areas will house more horses per space than the arid areas of the southeast. I'm in Kansas and in my area(the flinthills) it requires more than an acre or 2 per horse. I am referring to 24/7 turnout with no hay being fed in spring/summer and early fall. I have my horses on about 20 acres for spring and summer with an additional 60 acres available around mid July. This is when the heat gets turned up and the dryer weather sets in so the grass isn't going to be growing very much. If we have a dry summer I have to shut them off a bit. If we have a lot of rainfall and/or in early spring I may have so much grass I have to shut off the Easy keepers so they don't blimp up. LOL

Oh, and I don't clean these pastures. I do clean up around the barn tho. Hubby mows the 20 acre pasture a couple times during summer to help knock the weeds.

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post #8 of 8 Old 01-31-2010, 11:43 PM
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Generally, if you fertilize the grass and rotate pastures (and have good water & drainage), 1 acre per-horse is enough. If you do not fertilize and/or do not rotate, then you need 2+ acres per-horse.

Talk to your local cooperative extension service for the best pasture managment techniques in your area. Every state has an extension service and almost every county or parish has an office. They give free advice and information relating to anything agricultural (as well as other services).
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