How to Plant Horse-Friendly Pasture Grass

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A horse and foal graze in a grass field.
A horse and foal graze in a grass field. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Good pasture forage is one of the best investments you can make for your horse farm. Depending on your location, the size of your property and the number of equines you keep, pasture can make up the bulk of your horse's food for most of the year. The best type of horse-friendly pasture grass varies according to region. Your local agricultural extension agent can help you choose the best grass for your area and your particular property.

Choosing Grass

Kentucky is known as the Bluegrass State in honor of one of the finest equine grasses. Bluegrass thrives elsewhere in the country, and not just in the central United States. Other good choices for pasture include orchardgrass and ryegrass. You can plant a mix of these grasses. In the South, warm-season grasses such as bahia, hybrid bermudagrass and limpograss -- the latter suitable for poor soils -- are commonly planted. You can plant certain cool-season grasses for autumn and winter pastures, including ryegrass, wheatgrass and oatgrass. Whatever seed suits your purposes, purchase the best-quality seed you can afford.

Testing the Soil

Before planting, have your soil tested. Your county agricultural extension agency might provide this service. A soil analysis will result in recommendations for fertilizing and liming. For best results, fertilize pastures planted with cool-season grasses in the autumn. If your soil's pH is low, lime every six to nine months until you've raised the soil pH to its ideal level of 6.2. If you are creating a new pasture, you can disc the lime into the soil rather than apply it to the surface. Have your soils tested at least every three years.

Planting Your Pasture

Before planting, clear the land of all weeds by tilling regularly. The best planting dates and the rate of seed necessary for planting your pasture depend on your region and climate. Once planted, the pasture requires regular maintenance. Avoid putting horses on it until the seedlings are completely established. Even if horses are grazing the acreage, it will still requires fairly frequent mowing, along with dragging to break up manure. Not only does this clean up "roughs" where horses defecate, but it spreads the nutrients present in manure throughout the pasture.

What Not to Plant

It's important to know what kinds of grasses you shouldn't plant and to remove such plantings from your pasture. While certain grasses may be good for ruminant livestock, they can cause problems in equines. Avoid sorghum and sudangrass or hybrid varieties, along with foxtail millet. During times of drought, the sorghum and sudangrass types store prussic acid, the consumption of which can cause kidney disease or cyanide poisoning in horses. Foxtail millet not only has coarse heads that can lead to mouth ulceration, but it also produces diuretic effects. This could cause kidney issues in vulnerable horses. Your area agricultural extension service can advise on grasses to avoid in your area.

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