When can the horses go out on the pasture?

In the “wet coast” areas of BC, pasture time for our horses is a seasonal event. A common question I get is, “when can I put my horses out for the first time of pasture season?”

If your goals are to have a pasture free of mud and holes and to provide quality forage all season, then you have to avoid the temptation presented by unseasonably warm weather and growing grasses. There are two major determinants on whether you can give your ponies the pasture green light. These are, soil saturation and grass height.

Saturated soil is soil that is wet at all. Does your horse leave a hoof print if they walk in the pasture? Does your horse tear up the grass and leave skid marks when they run (because you KNOW they will will frolic that first time out)? If the answer is yes to either or both of those, it isn’t time yet. Why? Saturated soil will cause compaction of the soil and healthy grass can’t grow like that. Once you have compacted soil, it is very tough to fix it (think major pasture re-do). Saturated soil also causes the grass to be torn up by the roots and leave bare soil. Bare soil is an open invitation for weeds. Bare soil means less available forage. Holes in the field mean injuries!

While the grass may be springing to life, and calling your horse’s name (or so your horse tells you), you must wait for the grass to grow up a bit before it can be eaten without compromising the health of the grass. Grass should be a minimum of 10 inches before the feasting can begin. As the grass emerges from winter dormancy, it is essential it has the time to establish. Grazing earlier than 10 inches will result in shallow-rooted, weak grasses that will not hold up for the grazing season.

While it can be hard to wait, I assure you that making sure you don’t get out there too early will  mean that you have healthy pasture with quality forage well into the fall.

Happy Grazing!

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