Soil Test - First step in establishing a good pasture is to know what is happening in you soil. This is best done by collecting a soil sample from your paddock and sending it to a lab for analysis. If the pasture is low in pH then lime is a big factor to consider. If the paddock is a heavy soil type and gets wet it may need gypsum. Both of these are best put on when the paddock is being cultivated. The next factor to consider with your soil test results is what nutrients do I need and levels of these nutrients do I aim for to achieve maximum pasture production, most lab tests will provide you with a result of your soil then a desired level to aim for. Phosphorous, Potassium and Sulphur are the main elements to consider, but just as important are the trace elements such as zinc, copper, boron, selenium, molybdenum. I could do a full article on soils and if there are people keen to learn I am happy to go through soil in more detail at a later date
Sow pastures with a nitrogen/phosphorous and sulphur blend
Weed Control - step 2 is understanding what weeds are in your paddock and how you control them. Aim to spray weeds out prior to sowing your pasture as seed is expensive and you want to reduce competition for new seedlings. If it is a particular weedy paddock it may take 12 months of weed control to clean it up, it may be sown to an annual ryegrass or oat to allow you to do this then by the time the permanent pasture mix is sown you have established weed free conditions.
Paddock Selection- pick the paddocks that are tired or weedy that are not providing good feed for your horse. No two paddocks are the same, you can't sow all your paddocks down at once in the one year so aim to rotate around them and so a certain area each year if needed.
Species Selection- here are some species to try for different situations
- Phalaris - grows best in heavy soil types. Very hardy, takes heavy grazing well, loves the wet, need to watch possible toxins in the first shoots following the autumn break. This can become overcome with rotational grazing and supplementary feed.
- Brome grass - does well in well drained light/loam soils. Slow to establish but once established it is probably the most hardy of grasses for grazing by horses. Very palatable and persists well
- Cocksfoot - again tough grass that is always the one that greens up first following summer rains. Does best in lighter/loam soils which maybe low in pH.
- Perennial Ryegrass - offers the best value feed of all grasses. There has been a lot of speculation regarding too higher sugar uptake with ryegrass, but again understanding the type of horse you are grazing it and choosing one that is safer for horses is the key. Don't graze your horse on it that is susceptible to lameness, great for young horses. Make sure the choice of ryegrass has low endophyte. Endophyte are fungus/bacteria that helps the ryegrass plant persist. Varieties differ in their ratings for endophyte
- Short term ryegrass - offer one or two years of terrific feed value with a great option for hay cutting. It also allows the ability to clean weeds up before planting perennials
- Fescue - avoid there have been some issues with fescue and a number of sick horses so keep away from at this stage
- wait for the autumn rains
- Spray weeds
- Paddock may need cultivating to either remove trash or create a seed bed. Some soils, mainly light ones can be sown straight into.
- Good idea to roll your paddock once sown to get good seed to soil contact
- Sow with fertiliser to provide fertility for the new seedlings
- See who the best contractor is in your area if you don't have your own equipment
- Look for insects that may eat you new seedlings such as mites and slugs. One tool to help is when you order your pasture seed ask for it to be coated with innoculant and insect protection.
- Look for weeds, you may need to spray broadleaf weeds early if they come up with the pasture
- Identify your species that you have sown so you can tell the difference between the good and the bad plants
When To Graze it for the first time:
Be patient the first grazing could take 12 weeks to occur. The best way to determine if a pasture is ready is to walk through the paddock and grab a handfull of grass and pull it if the roots come up then you know it is not ready, if the plants remain intact in the ground then all is fine.
First graze do a quick one just take the top off the plants then get the horses off. Then rotationally graze in for a little while then out. Remember the best quality feed is in the 5-15 cm height range above the ground.
Remember the key is not to overgraze a pasture. This will soon destroy plants and allow weeds to take over quickly.
Once you have a pasture established remember to keep it fertilised each year and spread or remove manure.
If anyone would like some advice would be happy to help contact me on email@example.com