4 acres - hay or pasture?
We are looking at a lot of about 5.5 acres for horse property. Having planned out the house, round pen, arena, barn, etc., it all takes up about 1.5 acres. That means I have about 3-4 acres, depending on how large of a dry-lot turnout I decide to have, that I can either use as pasture or grow my own hay on. The lot has been used to grow hay before (I'm not sure if it's still being used to grow hay).
We plan on having 2-4 horses. My horses have been hay-fed up to this point, and I don't mind continuing that. The idea of pasture is nice since they will have more room to run around. However, I'd like to go with the most cost-effective option. If I were to grow hay, I'd have a larger dry-lot to satisfy turn-out needs. If I had pasture, the dry-lot would be smaller. In addition, the horses would have limited time out on the pasture and still receive some hay and supplements in the mornings and/or evenings.
Which would be the most cost effective? I have never grown my own hay before and would hire someone to come do the heavy-machinery work like baling (It's a farming community, so I'm sure I could find someone and we even have a few friends there that grow hay). I estimate getting about 8 tons of hay per acre (4 cuttings @ 2 tons per cutting). With even 3 acres, 24 tons of hay would be plenty for my 4 horses, and any extra bales I could sell, but would it save me any money?
If I didn't grow hay, how much would it cost to make the land suitable for pasture?
I know nothing about baling hay/that whole aspect but I CAN tell you that the 5+ acre pasture that I'm using right now (which is basically 3 or 4 useable acres since a lot of it is covered in blackberries or too steep to really graze) had a hard time keeping up with 2 horses this summer (plus a large number of deer, etc). However, the horses were out on it all the time and it had been mowed at an awkward time of the year (mid-summer, right after the rains stopped for good).
Now that there's only one horse on it and two goats (all stalled at night), the grass is doing great but things would cheaper now if there had been only one horse through the summer.
Anyhoo, I might think about haying 2 acres and having 2 acres of pasture that the horses go out on during the day/in good weather and then a drylot for the rest of the time... The pasture might keep you from having to feed hay/much hay through the summer which, personally, is the epitome of "perfect".
But then again, I know nothing about haying. :)
I'm super jealous of your set up, it sounds like it'll be wonderful!
ETA: with the cost to make the pasture "pasture"...I have no idea. We have good enough earth out here that grass just grows like nobodies business. That's definitely a good point, I had never thought about that being different throughout the country! haha :oops:
I did like your idea of a kind of middle-ground - maybe have 2 acres in turnout and another 2 in hay, so I should have a little hay for the summer and plenty for the winter. I wonder if this would work?
We're really hopeful for this property - it could really be our dream set-up!
Another point to consider is whether you will be baling your own or hiring it done. In our area, finding someone to bale a small field was pretty much impossible. Much cheaper to buy the hay & use the pasture. However, that was over 15yrs ago and things could be different now.
I'm leaning toward using the pasture but managing it very well and keeping the horses off it more than on, but I'm not sure what work it would take to convert the hay field into a suitable pasture for horses.
I come out better utilizing all the pasture that I can and minimizing my hay requirements. I buy my hay. I guess the downside to this is that my horses can be a bit too fat.
Making hay is expensive. You have to fertilize the fields or the hay will be low quality. Hay making equipment is expensive. The whole thing is labor intensive. You may be able to find somebody to make hay on halves, but you still will be investing a lot in fertilizer.
I enjoy having enough pasture so that I am not having to always clean manure out of paddocks. They get plenty of vitamin A from the green grass. The horses are happy. They get exercise when I don't have time to ride them.
It should not be that hard to turn a hay field into pasture. Proper fencing with access to shade and water should do it.
One other thing that you could consider is to let the horses have the run of the field for part of the year after you make the last cutting of hay.
A field that is grazed will need to be bushhogged a couple of times every year to keep the weeds down.
We just asked our hay guy who has his cut and baled by a custom farmer. He says a 110lbs bale costs him 2.50 plus fertilizer and in his case seed(oat hay).
We're debating the same thing, have 8 acres irrigated pasture and are planning on two cuttings only.
If you do want more hay then pasture you could do 1 acre pasture, just so your horses have some space to run around, and 3 acres hay, so you won't run short during the winter.
I preface what I am about to say with I am unfamiliar with the climate and geography of your area but I can't help but think that your estimate of eight tons per acre is high. Are you able to bale year round where you are? Is your field going to be irrigated? Where we are, we might get a second cutting if we can get the first cutting off the field in June and then wait another two to three months for the second to grow if the weather cooperates.
It is expensive to have your own haying equipment and you need to be proficient at repairs because you can't always count on getting professional help out quickly to do fixes. Also, since your land is in a farming community and you're thinking of getting the "locals" to bale the hay for you, be prepared to have to wait because the reality is that they are doing their hay at the same time and you're field probably won't be a priority for them - that may affect the quality of the hay if it's done late and/or gets rained on.
In your situation, I suspect you'll be happiest with pasture land and purchased hay. Your horses will be glad of the room and grazing and you will be able to exercise some quality control with purchased hay. A pasture is not that hard to maintain - if you're getting a tractor buy a rough cut mower to mow down the weeds should there be any; if the manure piles start to look too plentiful, run a harrows over the field once in a while to break them down; if there are sparse areas showing up hand toss some hay seed and a bit of fertilizer (preferrably before a rain) to help fill them in.
Otherwise, it sounds like you've got a good set up planned so enjoy!
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