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Spring pasture to-do list

Stable owners can take several steps to optimize spring pasture productivity, according to B. Wieland of the University of Minnesota Extension Department. Spring is an important time of year for pasture care. Here is a list of things you can do in the next couple months to get your pastures looking great.

  • Fall is the best time of year to seed but spring is an acceptable time of year if you missed the fall deadline. April 1st to May 15th is the best time in the spring to reseed your pastures. Keep horses off newly seeded pastures grasses are well established and you have mowed two or three times.
  • Take Soil Samples See if pastures need additional nutrients. Once the frost is out and the soils have dried, samples can be taken. Many land grant universities, including the University of Minnesota, offer soil analysis services. Many private companies also offer such services.
  • Fertilize according to your soil test.  Often, only Nitrogen is needed in pastures.
  • Mow or spray herbicides to control annual weeds as it prevents them from getting established. Mowing is usually sufficient for annual weed control unless weed densities are high.
  • Check fences Snow and deer can be hard on fences. Check them before you turn out the horses.
  • Plan your grazing system: Think back to last year whether you had enough grass or if the horses turned the pasture into a putting green or mud pit. You may need to supplement your horse rations with hay during certain times of the grazing season and set aside a sacrifice area when the pasture needs a rest.
  • Let the grass grow until the ground firms up and grass has a chance to get growing. Once the grass is about 6 - 8" tall, start easing the horses onto the pasture in 15 minute daily increments (15 minutes the first day, 30 minutes the second day, 45 minutes the third day, etc...), until the time on pasture reaches 5 hours a day, after which the horse can be given unlimited access.

Teff grass offers value as horse hay

Stable owners who either buy or produce their own horse hay should take a look at Teff, an annual warm-season grass.  With hay prices running from $160 to $280 per ton, Teff could be a nice alternative to Timothy or other grass hays, say many equine nutritionists.

Teff is comparable to Timothy in animal acceptance, palatability, nutritional value and safety as there are no known toxins with it such as entophyte or prussic acid.  Sugar content is moderate.   Protein content, in the 14% range, is similar to cool season grasses.  As hay, its fine stem allows for quick curing which reduces opportunity for mold formation during storage.

Steve Wallace, Senior Forage Agronomist at Barenbrug Seeds, Tangent, OR says, “Teff is best in a prepared seedbed.  In a prepared seedbed, you can take a hay cutting and graze it for the rest of the season.  It can be be very productive, especially in areas with a longer growing season.  Because it is a warm-season annual, it needs to be planted a little later, which limits productivity especially with shorter growing seasons.”

It should be harvested at the boot stage or shortly before for peak quality.  If grazed, it is best to rotational graze in small movable paddocks.  Since horses spot graze, forage would be wasted it they were allowed to roam too large an area.  

Teff can be grown almost anywhere but is best used where warm-season grasses are commonly grown.

If you are buying Teff hay, check to see that it was harvested at or before boot stage (before seed-head emergence), which is an indicator of relative feed value.  Pre-boot Teff is higher in protein while boot stage or later is lower.

Teff may also be a good option in an emergency where a forage crop is needed quick.  It is relatively easy to establish and low maintenance.


Quality Analysis




Timothy hay

Teff hay

% Crude protein



Acid detergent fiber  ADF



Neutral detergent fiber  NDF



Total digestible nutrients TDN



Paper presented Dr. Don Miller, Producer’s Choice Seeds

Some of the companies that sell Teff grass seed are listed below:

Barenbrug Seeds

Tangent, OR


Hancock Seed Co

Dade City, FL



Hoegemeyer Seeds

Hooper, NE


Kings AgriSeeds

Ronks, PA


Teff Company




Wellborne, FL



Lacrosse Seed Co.




Horse stable owners can enhance grazing value with grass seed mix selection

Horse stable owners can enhance horse nutrition and hay feeding by paying more attention to the types of cool-season pasture grasses seeded in horse pastures, according to a recent study completed by Krishona Martinson and Craig Sheaffer of the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.

Study results show that horses have definite preferences for certain types of grasses compared with other mixes. The study involved four adult horses grazing eight commercially marketed and four experimental perennial grass pasture mixtures in plots approximately 6’ x 20’.  Mixtures each contained four to six of grass species: Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, reed canarygrass, meadow bromegrass, timothy or festulolium.

Plots were grazed for about four hours each day for five days.  Grazing started when grass was about 8”high and stopped when was grazed down to about 3.5” in height to avoid over grazing.  The amount of forage removed during the study was estimated and used as a basis to determine horse preference for various pasture mixtures.  The study showed horses have distinct preferences for among the mixtures offered. It concluded:

  • ·         Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and timothy were the most preferred with about 86% of the forage removed in grazing.
  • ·         Adding orchardgrass to the most preferred mixtures reduced consumption to 71%.
  • ·         Removing meadow fescue or Kentucky bluegrass and timothy and adding meadow bromegrass/or orchardgrass resulted in the least preferred with 55% of the forage being consumed.
  • ·         Mixtures containing meadow fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and timothy promoted uniform grazing. However, yield, persistence and forage nutritive value of mixtures should be taken into consideration when determining cool-season grass mixtures to plant in horse pastures.


The study shows that owners of horse boarding stables and other horse operations can reduce hay consumption and save money by getting horses get more of their nutritional needs. Bottom line, you can lead a horse to a pasture…and maybe you can actually get it to graze with proper selection of pasture mixes.



As temperatures begin to dip, Dr. Juliet Getty, equine nutrition specialist, wants your horse to make the transition to winter feeding in good shape, and that means understanding about the sugar and starch that lurk in your fall pasture growth.

If you have horses that are overweight, insulin resistant, or suffer from equine Cushing’s disease, you know about keeping them off of spring grasses. The non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) content is too high for free-choice grazing to be safe, increasing the risk for laminitis. But don’t think you're out of the woods once spring is over. True, summer is safer, but as early fall nights cool down below 40 degrees F, the dangerous carbohydrates once again increase.

 Grass accumulates NSC (sugars and starch) as it is exposed to sunlight. The levels reach a peak in the late afternoon. During the dark hours, the grass uses this fuel for itself, and by morning, the levels are at their lowest. But, cold nights prevent grass from using as much NSC, resulting in a higher NSC concentration during the day.

 Don’t be fooled by the brown grass you see in the late fall. Spread it apart and you’ll likely see some green at the base, which is high in sugar and starch. If it hasn’t rained in a while, your grass will look dried out; but be careful – dry grass can actually have a higher NSC percentage than long, lush-looking grass.


Knowing what is in a horse pasture pays dividends

Neglecting pastures can be costly as several Minnesota and Wisconsin stable owners learned from a 2011 study designed to optimize nutrient production from pastures.  The stables were participants in a fee-based program, initiated by the University of Minnesota Extension Service, designed to optimize the nutritional production of pastures, according to Krishona Martinson, Extension Specialist at the University of Minnesota. 

Each participant paid $650.  Two farm visits were made to each farm by University of Minnesota Extension Specialists.  Prior to the visits, participants completed a farm profile that identified farm goals, pasture acres and number of horses pastured.  During the initial visit, soil and forage samples (both pasture and hay) were taken and analyzed. Horses were scored for body condition and weights estimated.

 A detailed analysis of pastures in the study revealed:


  • ·         Sixty-six percent contained noxious weeds with Canadian thistle being most prevalent
  • ·         Nine percent included plants that are poisonous to horses
  • ·         Deficient manure management
  • ·         Shortages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK).
  • ·         Evidence of over grazing (48 percent).

Management practices were evaluated.  Only 14 percent used herbicides to control weeds, and none of the farms utilized mowing to control weeds.  Few used rotational grazing.

Based on this information, according to Martinson, a series of management practices were recommended to participants.  Most of the recommendations in the 2011 studied were applied.

The payoff is obvious a year later.  Twenty-two percent reported feeding less hay since implementing the changes and 33 percent said they were experiencing longer grazing seasons. 

Most participants planned to implement some or all of the changes the study recommended. They payoff: 22 percent reported feeding less hay since making the changes, and 33 percent said they were able to extend their grazing season.