Gourmet Grazing; Understand Topping and Worn Patches

Your grazing paddocks produce the most natural - and cheapest - feed for your horse, along with the essential benefit of turnout time to 'just be a horse'. In the seasonal 'Gourmet Grazing' features in every issue of Equine magazine, the experts at Logic answer reader questions providing practical advice on many different aspects of managing grazing paddocks as well as possible.

Logic Equestrian

 

For video and more information about managing your grazing, visit www.LogicToday.co.uk

 

Q - Our three horses share their daytime summer grazing of nine acres with pedigree Blue Leicester ewes and lambs, but our stocking density isn’t high, so there still is a need to top the pasture. What is the best way to manage this – should we top shorter and so less regularly, or do we leave it longer and top a little off more frequently? What is the best option for the horses and does that compromise what would be best for the sheep? The land is sloping and drains well and it’s open, North West facing, so grows fairly evenly. It’s been down to pasture for nearly 10 years now, but is still a healthy sward that is fertilised with 20:10:10 each spring.

 
Logic TRM120 Rotary Mower topping a paddock
Answer - Generally horses and sheep like a similar type of grazing as their eating method of nibbling and biting off grass is suited to short growth. To provide this, our recommendation would be to top quite regularly. This would be at the end of each grazing period if you are rotating grazing, but if you are not dividing up the area with electric fencing and the area is set stocked, then once a month would be appropriate. With the use of a Logic Rotary Mower you could top the whole area in a few hours; about a morning’s work. When the grass is kept to a shorter length you will find poo picking is so much easier and if you use one of our Sweeper Collectors the job will be done in a very short time. With the addition of sheep you should get less ‘soiled ‘areas as they will clear up after the horses and topping will remove seed heads to keep the new shoots short and nutritious.  Even though the pasture has been down for 10 years, regular topping will encourage the finer grasses to flourish and output from the paddock should increase.
 
 
Q - What is the best way of dealing with worn patches in grazing pastures that are used for ponies? We have several small paddocks, divided by a mix of stone walls and electric fencing and three Welsh ponies that don’t need lush grazing, especially at this time of year.
The land is very free draining, so in drier periods, it ‘wears’ in patches, which can end up with bare ground and we want to stay on top of repairing these to keep the grazing looking as good as possible. We can move the ponies around to give the paddocks a rest for a period, so how do you suggest we best repair the grass and what type of seed mix will be quick to establish, hard wearing and yet not too nutritious? Is there such a mix??
 
Logic LPH200 Pro-Harrow and EBC-TFS80
Electro-broadcaster on the ATV,
over-seeding this paddock.
Answer - If you have the ability to close up a grazing area as you indicate, with electric fencing or by closing the gate into the paddock with the ‘bare’ area, you should be able to carry out repair work quite easily. The choice of seed mixtures is important and advice can be taken from your local agricultural merchant or go online to source a suitable mixture from a reputable seed house. It should contain meadow fescue, timothy, creeping red fescue and smooth stalked meadow grass, which are suitable for horses and ponies. They are hard wearing and don’t provide too much protein, so should not create any issues. Often these mixtures contain ryegrasses as well which are not so suitable, but are good for growth and may be worth considering in your drier patch as they have deep root systems and would probably thrive better. You could always create your own mixture using any of the above grasses with some herbs and wild flowers as well.
The best time to over-seed in in the autumn or spring when there is enough moisture in the soil to ensure good germination. The first job however, is to check the pH of the soil and spread a liming product to correct any acidity and this would be best done in the autumn.  You can ask an agronomist to carry out this service or you can do it yourself. Simply take a small soil sample, about an egg cup full into a clean plastic bucket, from about ten equally spaced sites across the whole area and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon, before taking it to your local agricultural merchant who will arrange to have it analysed.  Once any remedial measures have been carried out the next step is to sow the seed. You indicate the worn areas are in patches, so are probably too small to use an electro-broadcaster, in which case sowing by hand would be appropriate. You will need to create a suitable tilth for the seed to be broadcast onto and a Logic Tine Harrow is the ideal implement to run over with a few times, which will level and prepare the area. Simply spread the seed as evenly as possible then go over with the harrow a few more times to spread and cover the seed with soil. Roll the area to consolidate and level, which will ensure the seed is in contact with the soil to encourage good germination.  A Logic Ballast Roller would be perfect for this work so that the optimum weight for moisture and soil type can be provided.  
Use your electric fencing to cordon off the area, to let the seedlings become established before allowing livestock back onto the grazing. A slow release, balanced compound fertiliser should be applied to make sure the new plants have the correct nutrients to grow well and get established.
 
This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of Equine magazine. To subscribe to Equine, visit the secure online store at www.theequinestore.co.uk