Your opinions please on my Pasture Management (Alberta)
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?
I'm in Saskatchewan, but I think our situations would be similar enough to offer a few thoughts:
1. Winter grazing the hay field is a great idea as long as it's not too rich for your horses, and as long as there's adequate grass and the snow isn't too deep. It will benefit the hay because the horse manure will add nutrients to the soil. In fact, if you don't graze it, you'll have to artificially fertilize it every few years to maintain fertility.
2. Have you thought of multi-species grazing for your summer paddock to cut the chances of founder? If you have a neighbour with a few cattle, you could have the cattle graze the pasture ahead of the horses, then send the horses in a few days after the cattle are done. You'll just need to make sure the pasture doesn't get overgrazed at any point.
3. I would stockpile plenty of hay for winters. Four of our horses (one a Belgian) will go through a round bale in just over a week. And if it's a hard winter, you might get wildlife snacking on it, too, which is pretty difficult to prevent.
Thank you LisaG, your input is appreciated.
My biggest concern with horses on the hay field (as far as production) would be as it thaws and gets muddy they will tear it up and hurt the years growth.
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I'd think so. As long as its frozen they shouldn't hurt the roots.
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We haven't had that problem with our pasture. I guess it will depend on your soil type, slope, type of hay, etc... in that field. You should probably check with some of the locals.
Thank you very much Phly
Just some points you missed.
First cutting will always be a higher yield than second. It will typically be of lesser quality but that doesn't seem to be an issue with your horses. Might even be a better choice as it will be lower in calories as well (less alfalfa).
Running the horses on a hay field can be detrimental to the field but it can also be good. The edges (where the weeds creep in) are typically left because you can't get the swather close enough to the ditches and fenceline. You can easily have another RB worth of grass left behind. For years I would only take a first cutting than in the early winter turn the horses out and let them graze the regrowth (as much as 1 foot typically). Saved me $$ by not paying to cut and bale it as well as time not feeding. I also live in a high wind area of the country so you don't have to worry about the hay blowing away as soon as you feed. You might be miles ahead just paying for the farmer to cut and bale your first and than grazing the rest. They key is to not have the horses out when it's muddy and when the green grass starts poking up. Harder done than said. They will get out there and dig in the dirt so they can get that one blade of grass they want.
Does the farmer fertilize, irrigate... do anything other than cut and bale? If that's all he's doing and getting over 1/2 of the hay, he is being over compensated and you need to rework your agreement.
Alberta Agriculture's website probably has info on rental agreements, etc.. You could also call them and talk to someone about these arrangements, and what's sensible (along with how to let your horses graze the hay field without trashing it). Their number is 310-FARM (3276).
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