Feeding Hay and Protecting Your Pasture

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Although we have had some warm days, winter is coming up quickly, and our warm-season grasses are going dormant, so we have to start feeding hay. Whether you feed square or round bales, managing how you feed your hay is important. 

Starting in October, warm-season grasses go dormant. These dormant grasses must be protected by minimizing traffic and damage to the pasture. This can be keeping the horses in a sacrifice area that removes them from the pasture until they are ready to graze in the spring or changing how we feed and water them. A sacrifice area can be a dry lot or a paddock that you are okay with producing less forage throughout the year. Often, your least productive paddock is the easy choice for this area. If this is not an option, consider where and how you feed hay and your water source. 

Moving where you feed and water can be challenging. The area around the water source is often the most damaged, leaving dead space up to 100 feet around the water trough. Water sources are often fixed or limited to where your hydrant is located. While moving your water can greatly impact your pasture damage, it is often not practical. That leaves us with moving hay. Which is easier than moving water but still can be a pain. Feeding round bales involves starting up a tractor, opening gates, cutting off the net, fighting off your horses, and hoping you can tip the bale in without tipping or crushing the hay ring. Feeding square bales can be just as big as a pain. Opening gates one-handed, dragging a 50 pound bale, fighting off the horses, walking across the pasture, or throwing it over the fence. People are creatures of habit and we can be a bit lazy. I myself guilty of throwing it over the fence in the same place every day, its easy. However eventually, that spot and about 100 feet around it was dirt that was lower than the rest of the pasture and had no chance of growing grass. 

The area where we feed, and water horses are high traffic and where horses will spend most of their time. This high traffic is what causes pasture damage. Feeding hay or watering in a different spot daily or weekly will reduce the damage with the added benefit of spreading organic matter and nutrients back into the soil in different spots. Where you feed is where your horses will spend most of their time, meaning that is where they are most likely to release manure and urine which is high in nutrients like nitrogen. Nitrogen is one the most important nutrients needed for grass growth. Horses cannot digest 100% of the available nitrogen in their hay. The nitrogen that is not absorbed is released in urine and manure. Letting the nutrients back into the soil, free fertilizer. The leftover hay will also act as mulch and be additional organic to improve your soil and pasture health. In the sandy soil we have in the Sandhills can always use extra organic matter. 

Check out the articles below for more information.

An Equine New Year’s Resolution: Better Pasture Management

How to Make Rotational Grazing Work on Your Horse Farm

Written By

Tom Shea, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionTom SheaExtension Agent, Agriculture - Livestock, Field Crops Call Tom Email Tom N.C. Cooperative Extension, Moore County Center
Posted on Oct 20, 2023
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