With a horse herd that fluctuates between 40-50 horses and 20 cattle every year, pasture management has become one of our biggest concerns for ranch longevity. Obviously, we are not farmers but we do our best to take care of our land which in turn, takes care of our animals.
In the winter, we have less animals at our Regina location because we send many of the cattle away. The pregnant mares are brought into the barns at night. And the animals remaining outside are moved to the pastures located closest to our buildings. This allows us to keep a closer eye on things – especially when the temperature reaches extreme lows. (As a sidenote: We choose to blanket a good majority of the horses who must live outside during a brutal SK winter, and having them closer to the barn allows us to see if straps have come undone, tears have occurred, etc.)
However by spring, our foals have arrived, and since the performance horses take over the barns at this time, mares are no longer stabled inside at night. Therefore, our pastures are employed nearly in full force. In Regina, we have 5 large pastures and 2 medium sized ones that we have been using for the past two years. An additional pasture was just built this year but as its grasses are not yet established, we have not yet put any animals in it. We also have several daily turnout pens (for barn horses) and a large cattle pen.
In Regina, pasture management is a struggle because as everyone knows – horses are hard on pasture. Specifically in our location, we deal with a kind of earth referred to by locals as \”gumbo.\” It is fabulous ground for farming and the crops around our farm are spectacular. However, it can be hard on horses. Therefore, we try very hard to keep the grasses growing in our pasture land.
Each spring (just prior to turning horses onto the pastures,) we reseed our fields with a custom seed blend. Working with advice from professional agronomists, our blend consists of hardy grasses that bloom at various times of the year. The custom seed blend contains some Kentucky Blue Grass, Timothy, Crested Wheat, a tiny bit of Alfalfa and Brome grasses.
The 5 larger pastures are then given a fair amount of time to allow the new seeds to establish and grow. And we try to turn our horses into the medium sized pastures (which we have pretty much accepted as \”sacrifice areas\”), while this happens. That said, sometimes herd dynamics, specific feed requirements and quite simply the need for keeping the colt yearling crop separated from the filly yearling crop, all play a role here… We try to keep horses off the pastures in the early spring so they can get growing but sometimes, we may be forced to use a pasture before it's really ready. As I mentioned, we try to do our best.
With that in mind, it is possible for us to only require 3 of the 5 large pastures at any one time. So this allows us 2 pastures to use for rotation. Our fencing system was designed with a series of gates and waterers that totally allow us to close off some areas, when Clay decides the grasses are getting too low.
It is ideal to keep your stock off pastures when it is wet, but that option is rarely available to us in Regina. We do feed our pasture horses each day and we keep a close eye on body condition. We also walk our pastures in Regina fairly regularly. We have had a couple issues with Wild Mustard and since we have several valuable broodmares, we keep an eye out for clovers or fescues that can result in funguses.
For instance, endophyte-infected tall fescue \”fescue toxicosis,\” causes a great deal of problems in broodmares including prolonged gestation (as long as 13 to 14 months), foaling difficulties, thickened placentas (including red bag deliveries, where the placenta detaches and comes ahead of the foal), and a decrease or complete absence of milk upon foaling. Later on, affected mares might also be hard to get back in foal.
Part way through the summer, our pastures are mowed (especially to try and get rid of some weeds that will soon spread their seeds) and sprayed with herbicide. For 10 days following a spray, we have to keep all animals off the sprayed areas. Then we mow again in the fall and some of the worse-for-wear pastures are reseeded at this time – just prior to a big freeze. With the horses still turned out in them, our thought is that the pressure per square inch of their hooves, drives the seeds into the ground and prepares them for spring bloom. Then in the spring we reseed again, and if circumstances allow, we try and keep the horses off them until they are established.
And the cycle begins again.