the Value of Pasture for Horses
K D. Johnson, Agronomy Department
M. A. Russell, Animal Sciences Department, Purdue University
Cooperative Extension Service
West Lafayette, IN 47907
Management of horse pasture is an ongoing process that takes time, equipment,
knowledge, and dollars. If managed wisely and well, pasture will be an economical source
of high-quality feed as well as a healthy place for horses to exercise. It managed poorly
or ignored, pasture can soon become nothing more than an overgrazed weed patch that not
only has little nutritional value, but may even contribute to horse health problems.
The purpose of this publication is to help horse owners get the most out of the time,
effort, and money they are (or should be) putting into permanent pasture management.
Discussed first are two basic pasture-planning decisions: (1) the nutritional role of your
pasture acreage whether it's to be a major feed source or just an exercise lot; and (2)
the options for pasture improvement-whether to renovate, reestablish, or merely maintain.
Presented next are step- by-step procedures for renovating or reestablishing an existing
pasture, and for establishing a new one. The final section reviews those practices that
help maintain-even extend-pasture productivity.
The agronomic practices described in this publication (including lime and fertilizer
rates; forage seeding mixtures, rates and planting dates; seedbed preparation; and weed
control) are also applicable to pasture management for other livestock species.
PASTURE PLANNING DECISIONS
Usage Decision-Nutrition or Exercise Only?
The first decision is whether to use the pasture for exercise purposes only or as a
major part of your nutritional program. Most horses benefit from being outside regularly
to exercise. This need can be met on relatively small, well-drained lots. Free exercise
reduces behavior and respiratory problems, improves bone growth, and increases vitamin
If your desire, however, is for the pasture to serve as a feed source, other factors
need to be considered including its potential nutritional value and its carrying capacity.
Pasture nutritional value. Most horses can be maintained nutritionally through the
growing season on well-managed pasture if provided with fresh water and a supply of
trace-mineralized salt. Table 1 compares the nutrient composition of three pastures with
the nutritional needs of various types of horses. Productive pasture during the growing
season can replace the hay and reduce the concentrate required by most horses, and can
replace all feed for those that are laid up, mature, idle, or pregnant. Note in Table 1
that lactating mares and fast-growing weanlings will probably need additional energy,
protein, and minerals.
The values in this table also indicate a marked decrease in nutrient availability as
forages mature. Consequently, management practices need to be utilized that keep the
forage actively growing. The key to nutritional management is to continually observe the
horses and supplement the pasture only it their body condition so indicates.
Pasture carrying capacity. Horses should consume 1 percent or more of their body weight
per day in forage dry-matter. If the major nutrient source is pasture, a 1000-pound horse
will collectively consume and waste approximately 3 tons of forage dry matter during a
typical 6-month grazing season. Thus, with average management, it would take about 2 acres
of pasture to meet the nutrient needs of a mature horse.
Of course, the carrying capacity of any particular pasture will depend on such things
as type of horses, soil type, soil fertility, drainage conditions, amount of rainfall,
time of year, and type of forage species present. For instance, in mid- to late-summer or
in droughty periods, grass-only pastures will not carry as many horses as grass-legume
pastures. Many annual forage species can be planted to provide supplemental feed in times
of short permanent pasture supply. Cooperative Extension Service publication, AY-263,
provides complete detail on their utilization. For most individuals, purchasing hay is a
more economical solution to the crisis.
Table 1. Nutrient Composition of Pasture Dry Matter Compared with the Nutrient Needs
Pasture species Dry Digestible Crude Phos-
and maturity matter energy protein calcium phorus Vitamin A
pct. Meal/lb. pct. pct. pct. 1000 IU/lb.
Vegetative 31 1.44 17.4 0.33 0.30 72.7
Mature 42 1.12 9.5 0.30 0.25 694
Vegetative 23 1.44 18.4 0.57 0.54 34.9
Mature 35 1.06 8.4 0.45 0.35 32.1
Vegetative 22 1.35 19.2 1.27 0.42 34.3
Mature 30 1.08 11.2 1.13 0.32 30.5
Type of horse Minimum requirements
Mature or idle 1.00 10.0 0.30 0.20 0.5
90 days) 1.10 11.0 0.50 0.40 1.6
Lactation 1.20 14.0 0.60 0.40 1.3
Weanling 1.40 15.0 0.70 0.40 0.9
Work 1.20 11.0 0.35 0.25 0.9
* From "Nutrient Requirements of Horses"(1989) and "Tables of Feed
composition" (1982), National Research Council, National Academy of
Well-managed Kentucky bluegrass pasture will produce approximately 2 tons of dry matter
per acre. Tall-growing, cool-season grasses such as orchardgrass or smooth bromegrass may
yield 4 tons of dry matter, but most of that will be produced in the spring and fall. When
a legume is incorporated with the grass, yields can top 6 tons dry matter per acre, with
more of it produced in the summer than would be the case with cool-season grass alone.
(Figure 1 shows the normal production period(s) of various grass and legume species.)
Improvement Decision-Renovate, Reestablish, or Leave It Alone?
A pasture's anticipated use and its present condition together determine if it should
be renovated, reestablished, or left alone.
If the pasture is predominantly a place for horses to exercise and the stocking rate
averages more than one 1000-pound horse per acre, it should probably be left alone. Under
high stocking rates, forage crops will always lack vigor and never have the opportunity to
attain their production potential. Areas that will remain exercise lots and that have an
adequate sod cover should not be considered for major overhaul, since improvement costs
will likely exceed any realized benefits.
If, on the other hand, the pasture is to be an important feed source but is currently
unimproved and overstocked, then renovation or reestablishment is justified, provided
improved pasture management practices will be employed to maintain it.
Figure 1 Forage production curves of common cool-season grass and legume species.
When a pasture is renovated, it is "renewed" through a set of proven
management practices that usually include controlling weeds, liming and fertilizing
according to soil test, reducing vigor of the existing sod, then seeding into that sod an
adapted legume or grass-legume mixture. When a pasture is reestablished, the existing
vegetation is completely destroyed by tillage or a herbicide, the soil is limed and
fertilized (again according to soil test), then a seedbed is prepared and planted with
adapted forage species.
Reestablishment is usually more costly than renovation, since it involves additional
tillage or herbicide use. However, the extra expense may be justified if a higher-yielding
forage is desired (e.g., smooth bromegrass to replace Kentucky bluegrass) or if the
existing pasture is predominately bare ground, or weeds with little sod cover beneath.
Localized high-traffic areas near the water supply and gates might also be reestablished
to tall fescue, which is better able to withstand heavy trampling.
RENOVATING GRASS PASTURE WITHOUT LEGUMES
Often the best way of renovating grass pasture is to introduce an adapted legume into
the existing sod. Sometimes, however, this is not possible because grazing pressure would
be too intense for legume survival or because inaccessibility to water would make
rotational grazing impractical. Thus, pasture improvement has to be accomplished without
the benefit of legumes.
The recommended way to improve a grass pasture involves the following sequence of
practices including weed control, soil testing, liming, fertilizing, and grazing
The presence of weeds and brush in a pasture often indicates poor management,
particularly over-grazing and inadequate fertilization. If broadleaf weeds are a problem,
control with herbicides may be necessary. (See Table 2 for specific herbicide rates and
grazing restrictions.) Herbicides listed will kill any legumes present. Therefore, if the
pasture contains legumes that are making a contribution, apply the herbicides only to the
severely weed-infested areas.
After weeds and brush are controlled, proper pasture management practices must be used
or the weeds and brush will reappear.
A soil test is essential to realizing optimum grass pasture production, for it
determines precisely how much lime and fertilizer should be applied. Too little prevents
optimum yields; too much not only is an unnecessary expense, but can also cause plant
growth and environmental problems.
Table 2. Established Grass Pasture Weed Control for Horses*
Weeds Controlled** Herbicide*** Rate Restrictions
Curly dock, dan- Crossbow 1-2 qt/a. for annuals Avoid drift to suscep-
delion, bull and musk (2,4-D + triclopyr) and biennials; 2-4 tible crops. No graz-
thistle, ironweed, wild qt./a. for perennials; ing restrictions if
carrot, marestail, 1-1.5% solution for applied 2 gal./a. or
fleabane, wild mus- spot treatments. less (delay until 14
tard, top growth only days after treatment
of Canada thistle and if applied > 2 gal/a.
hemp dogbane, plus See label for haying
other annual and restrictions. Do not
perennial weeds. Will seed pastures for a
control certain woody minimum of 3 weeks
species as well (i.e. after treatment.
Curly dock, hemp Banvel 0.5-3 pt./a. for annu- No waiting period
dogbane, ironweed, (dicamba) als and biennials; between treatment
marestail, milkweed, 0.5-6 qt./a. for peren- and grazing for non-
swamp smartweed, nials; 0.5 qt.-2 gal/a. lactating animals.
Canada thistle, musk for woody species. Avoid drift. For the 4
and bull thistle, wild pt./a. rate, corn and
carrot, burcucumber, soybeans may be
fleabane, morning- planted the next
glory, and several spring after treat-
other annual and ment; wheat may be
perennial weeds. planted in the fall or
Woody species also spring following the
listed on label. treatment.
Dandelion, bindweed, Weedar 64 2 pt./a. for annuals; Avoid drift. Do not
hemp dogbane, net- (2,4-D amine) 2-4 pt./a. for biennials reseed legumes or
tles, ironweed, mor- and perennials. rotate to other crops
ningglory, musk and for 3 months or until
bull thistle, fleabane, the chemical disap-
wild carrot, mustards, pears from soil. Do
and several other an- not graze dairy cattle
nual and perennial tor 7 days after treat-
Many of the same Weedone LV4 2 pt./a. for annuals; Do not graze animals
species as 2,4-D (2,4-D ester) 3-4 pt./a. for biennials on treated areas for 7
amine. Ester formula- and perennials. days after treatment.
tion works better on Avoid drift. (See
wild garlic and onion 2,4-D amine for
than the amine. further restrictions.)
Mayweed, buttercup, Ally 1/10 to 3/10 oz/a. No grazing restric-
henbit, wild garlic, (metsulfuron methyl) (add a surfactant); 1 tions. Avoid drift.
musk thistle, Canada oz. per 100 gal. of Treated fescue may
thistle, curly dock, water for spot treat- be stunted. If applied
marestail, common ment. 2/10 oz/a., wait 12
chickweed, common mo. before planting
mullein and others, legumes and 6 mo.
certain woody spe- for cool-season
cies such as buck- grasses; If applied >
brush, multiflora rose. 2/10 oz./a., do not
plant rotational crop
for 34 mo. unless a
field bioassay is per-
Woody plant and Spike 20P 3.75-20 lb/a. May cause temporary
brush control. (Avoid (tebuthiuron) herbicidal symptoms
applications near de- to appear on peren-
sirable trees, shrubs, nial grasses. Dor-
etc.) mant season applica-
tion is recommended
to minimize herbicidal
effects on desirable
Grazing is only al-
lowed in areas
treated with 20 lb. per
a. or less. Allow 2 yr.
after application be-
Nonselective weed Roundup Spot treatment For spot treatment:
and brush control. (glyphosate) 1-2% solution apply in areas where
the movement of
livestock can be con-
trolled. No more than
1/10 of any acre
should be treated at
one time. Remove
livestock before ap-
plication and wait 14
days after application
before grazing. Allow
10-14 days after
Common burdock, Stinger 1/3 - 1 pt./a. Do not transfer lives-
cocklebur, dandelion, (clopyralid) tock from treated
curly dock, ground- grazing areas onto
sel, marestail, prickly sensitive broadleaf
lettuce, jimsonweed, crop areas without
oxeye daisy, rag- first allowing 7 days
weed, red sorrel, of grazing on an
sowthistle, Canada untreated pasture
thistle, musk thistle, (allowing clopyralid to
and others. pass through urine).
Avoid drift. Alfalfa
may be planted 12
mo. after treatment.
*Herbicide information compiled by Dan Childs, Extension Weed
Specialist, Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Purdue
University. Refer to the label for more complete information.
** Weeds appearing in this table are just a few of the weeds listed on
the herbicide label.
*** Be sure to read entire label before applying to any pasture; to be
used only in grass pastures. Injury to forage legumes may occur from
the application of these herbicides.
To take soil samples for testing, a sampling tube, auger or spade, and a clean plastic
pail are needed. Soil sample containers plus field and cropping information sheets may be
obtained from a commercial soil testing service. The field and cropping information sheets
tell where the samples were taken and what the past cropping and fertility practices were
on that particular field.
Divide the pasture into areas (10 acres maximum) that are uniform in soil color and
texture, and that have similar cropping and fertilization histories. Sample each area
separately, drawing 15 random soil cores at 2-3 inches deep. Do not sample within 200 feet
of a gravel road, along field borders or other distinctly different areas, such as sandy
ridges and eroded spots. These can be sampled separately, however, if soil test
information about them is desired. Place the 15 cores from each area in the plastic pail
and mix them thoroughly. If the soil is wet, let the cores dry first on clean paper before
mixing. Put each sample in a separate mailing container with the appropriate information
and send to the soil testing laboratory as per instructions provided. Soil pH (a measure
of soil acidity) and phosphorus and potassium levels are the three critical factors that
need to be analyzed by the lab.
Table 3 shows the recommended rates of lime for different soil pH levels. If the pH is
greater than 6.0 on mineral soils and greater than 5.4 on organic soils, no limestone will
be needed on already- established grass pastures. The SMP buffer pH or "lime
index," as it is commonly referred to in soil test reports, measures how readily a
soil will change pH when limestone is applied. A highly buffered soil (one with a high
cation exchange capacity) will have a lower lime index value, thus require more limestone
than soils with high lime index values.
Table 3. Limestone Recommendations for Grass-Only and Grass-Legume Pasture
Renovation/Maintenance and Establishment/Reestablishment*.
Mineral soils Organic soils
(less than 20% (more than 20%
organic matter) organic matter)
SMP Soil pH Soil pH Soil pH Soil pH
buffer <6.0 <6.6 <5.4 <5.4
pH (lime Grass Grass- Grass Grass-
index) only legume only legume
7.1 & over 0 1 0 0
7.0 1 1 0 0
6.9 1 1 1 1
6.8 1 1 1 1
6.7 1 2 1 1
6.6 2 2 1 1
6.5 3 4 2 2
6.4 3 4 2 2
6.3 3 4 3 3
6.2 & less 3 4 4 4
7.1 & over 1 2 0 0
7.0 2 2 0 0
6.9 2 2 2 2
6.8 2 3 2 2
6.7 3 4 3 3
6.6 4 5 3 3
6.5 6 8 4 4
6.4 7 8 5 5
6.3 7 8 7 7
6.2 & less 7 8 8 8
*These rate recommendations are based on certain assumptions about
previous limestone applications, tillage depth, and present limestone
quality. Make rate adjustments for the following conditions:
1. If limestone was applied within the last year, subtract the rate
applied then from the amount recommended in this table.
2. The establishment/reestablishment rates are based on a 9-inch
tillage depth. Adjust rates 10% for each 1 inch difference from the
assumed tillage depth, to a maximum of 30% (3 inches).
3. The table rates are based on 25 to 30% of the limestone passing
through a 60-mesh sieve. If your liming product's fineness differs from
this, check with your Extension agent on the appropriate adjusted rate
at that level of fineness.
4. If the rate you need exceeds 5 tons/acre, a split application
is recommended, with one-half broadcast and plowed down, and the other
half broadcast and incorporated with a secondary tillage.
5. Two cubic yards of marl containing at least 70% calcium
carbonate equivalent may be applied in place of 1 ton of standard
agricultural ground limestone.
The liming rates in Table 3 for pasture maintenance are about one-half those
recommended for pasture establishment, since tillage is not done when limestone is applied
to already-established grasses. Most limestone recommendations are based on a 9-inch
The phosphorus and potassium fertilizer rates shown in Table 4 for renovating permanent
grass pasture are lower than those for grass hay production because of the nutrient value
of manure left on the pasture. Some estimate that as much as 85 percent of the phosphorus
and 50 percent of the potassium in consumed forage is recycled in the manure.
Because manure is not evenly distributed, the pasture should be dragged periodically
with a harrow. If dragging is not done, phosphorus and potassium should be applied at the
rates recommended in Table 4 for pasture establishment.
When considering nitrogen fertilization of grass pasture, timing of application is just
as critical as proper rate. The best way to fertilize is to apply one-half of the nitrogen
in very early spring (mid- to late- March), one-fourth after the initial spring grazing,
and the last one-fourth in late August or early September; this maximizes summer
production of the cool-season grasses.
A second alternative is to apply two-thirds of the nitrogen in very early spring and
one-third in late August or early September. If nitrogen can only be applied once each
year, it should be broadcast in the very early spring.
Table 5 gives the per-acre nitrogen rates recommended for established grass pasture at
various yield levels. Realistic pasture yield goals are 2 tons of dry matter per acre for
Kentucky bluegrass and 4 tons of dry matter per acre for tall-growing cool-season grass
species like orchardgrass. Remember that the actual application rates will differ
depending on the elemental analysis of the fertilizer used.
The preferred source of nitrogen for grasses, especially under dry soil conditions, is
ammonium nitrate, which is less likely to volatilize to nitrogen gas. However, urea can
also be used effectively without volatilization loss if applied when the soil is moist or
just before a rain.
Maintaining the Stand
Proper grazing management, soil retesting and fertilization, pasture clipping,
dragging, and weed control will help ensure that a renovated grass stand not only survives
but thrives. These practices are discussed in the last section of this publication.
RENOVATING GRASS PASTURE WITH LEGUMES
As already mentioned, often the best way of renovating grass pasture is to introduce an
adapted legume into the existing sod. A grass-legume pasture provides the following
benefits over one composed of just cool-season grass species alone:
Table 4. Phosphorus (P2O5) and Potassium (K2)
Recommendations for Grass-Only and Grass-Legume Pasture Renovation/ Maintenance and
Grass-Only pasture Grass-legume pasture
Recommendation when per-acre Recommendation when per acre
Soil test rang. yield (dry matter basis) Is- yield (dry matter basis) is--
2 tons 4 tons 6 tons 2 tons 4 tons 6 tons 8 tons
Bray Exchange- soil test __________ _________ _________ ________ ________
P1 able K level P205 K2O P205 K20 P2O5 K20 P205 K20 P205 K20 P205 K20 P205 K20
pounds/acre pounds/acre pounds/acre
0-10 0-80 Very low 80 60 100 120 120 180 80 120 100 240 120 360 140 480
11-20 81-150 Low 40 10 40 20 40 30 40 60 40 120 40 180 40 260
21-30 151-210 Medium 10 0 10 0 10 0 10 10 10 70 10 120 10 200
31-50 211-300 High 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 60 0 140
51+ 301+ Very high 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 80
0-10 0-80 Very low 80 60 100 120 120 180 80 120 100 240 120 360 140 480
11-20 81-150 Low 60 50 80 100 100 150 60 100 80 200 100 300 120 420
21-30 151-210 Medium 30 40 50 80 70 120 30 50 50 150 70 240 90 360
31-50 211-300 High 20 30 40 50 60 90 20 0 30 80 50 180 70 300
51+ 301+ Very high 0 0 20 0 20 0 0 0 20 0 40 120 50 240
* The recommendations for pasture renovation/maintenance have been
adjusted to credit value of livestock waste on the basis that 85% of
the phosphorus and 50% of the potassium in the forage dry matter
produced is recycled. No adjustment is made for P205 and K20 when the
soil test is very low.
Seeding legumes into a grass sod needs to be done on a regular basis since they are
shorter-lived than grasses. Legumes should be reintroduced when they contribute less than
30 percent of the pasture's total forage production (or approximately two legume plants
per square foot). How often that is will depend on environmental conditions (especially
drought), level of management provided, and the legume species sown.
When tall fescue is the major source of nutrition, a potential horse health problem
exists called fescue toxicosis. This condition causes thickened placentas in the pregnant
mare resulting in death of the foal, long gestation periods, poor milk production from the
lactating mare, and poor conception rates when the mare is rebred.
Chances of fescue toxicosis can be lessened by not applying nitrogen on established
stands, using low-endophytic-fungus fescue varieties, renovating the fescue with legumes,
and mowing or applying enough grazing pressure to keep the fescue immature (no seed
heads). If a tall fescue-legume pasture is to be the predominant nutrition source, make
sure the proportion of legume to grass is at least one-third.
The following practices are essential to successfully introduce legumes into a grass
The year before seeding the legume, control broadleaf weeds with appropriate herbicides
as described in the previous section.
Soil Testing, Liming, and Fertilizing
Test the soil as discussed previously. Then according to the results, apply limestone
and fertilizer the summer or fall before late-winter seeding. Tables 3 and 4 show the lime
and fertilizer rates for grass-legume pastures based upon soil tests. These rates may
differ from those suggested by soil testing services, because Table 3 assumes that the
soil amendments are not incorporated to plow depth and Table 4 assumes some nutrients from
manure are returned to the pasture.
Nitrogen fertilizer should not be used, because it will encourage grass growth and make
legume establishment more difficult.
Reducing Grass Competition
The fall prior to seeding, overgraze the pasture to help reduce grass vigor. Then, if
erosion will not be a problem, till it later that fall with a tandem disk or field
cultivator to further reduce grass competition as well as incorporate the limestone and
fertilizer. Grass sod should be disturbed 50-70 percent if seeding clovers and 80-90
percent if seeding alfalfa or birdsfoot trefoil. The disturbed sod will recover by
mid-season from undisturbed tillers that initiate spring growth. (Do not till while the
soil is wet.)
Table 5. Nitrogen (N) Recommendations for Grass-Only Pasture Renovation/Maintenance.*
Recommendation when per-acre
yield (dry matter basis) is
2 tons 4 tons 6 tons
55 100 150
* These recommendations have been adjusted to credit
value of livestock waste on the basis that 10 lb. nitrogen per
ton of forage dry matter produced is recycled.
On sloping land with highly erosive soils where tillage is not practical or seeding is
delayed until late March or early April, the grass sod can be "knocked down"
with the herbicide, Gramoxone Extra. Gramoxone Extra is a restricted-use, nonselective
contact herbicide that kills all vegetation sprayed Apply it at a rate of .8-I pint (in 20
gallons of water; per acre (1.5 pints for tall fescue or smooth bromegrass) when the grass
has grown an inch or two and just ahead of or immediately after seeding the legume with a
no-till drill. Add an approved non-ionic surfactant at 1-2 pints per 100 gallons of spray.
Caution: Do not broadcast legume seed onto Gramoxone Extra-treated sod because there is
no frost action to provide seed-soil contact once spring growth has begun. Also when using
Gramoxone Extra, keep horses off the pasture for at least 2 months as the legume seedlings
develop and the grass recovers.
Seeding the Legume
No matter the size of the pasture or paddock, there are workable methods for
introducing a legume into established grass sod. If the pasture was adequately overgrazed
(and preferably also tilled) the preceding fall, one inexpensive yet effective way is to
broadcast the seed in late winter with a tractor-attached broadcaster. This implement
costs about one-tenth the price of a no-till drill.
If a no-till drill is used (and one should be for seeding into Gramoxone Extra-sprayed
sod), set the planting depth for 3/8-inch maximum. Many equipment dealers and Soil &
Water Conservation District offices rent no-till drills to those who have limited acreage
and can't justify owning one.
It the acreage is very small or the terrain too rough for a tractor and seeder,
consider using a small, shoulder-held, hand-cranked broadcaster. These can be purchased at
most seed stores.
Table 6 lists the legume species (alone or in mixture) that could be used in a pasture
renovation program and their proper seeding rates. To help select the right one, Table 7
summarizes the major agronomic and utilization characteristics as well as important
Getting the Legume Established
Pasture renovation can often fail after the legume has been sown. The key to getting a
legume established-and maintaining it-is grazing management.
Once the grass is growing vigorously and the ground has dried out enough to support
horses (usually mid-April to early May), graze the newly-renovated pasture until the
horses begin to defoliate the small legume seedlings. Then remove them for 6-10 weeks,
until the legumes reach a grazing height of approximately 6 inches. If there are not
enough horses to keep the pasture's early growth in check, it may be necessary to reduce
the grass competition in mid- to late-May by cutting the grass off above the legume
seedlings and removing it for hay.
ESTABLISHING OR REESTABLISHING PASTURE
Here are suggested steps for establishing a new pasture or reestablishing one that is
now predominately bare ground or weeds with little sod cover beneath. These steps include
liming and fertilizing, seedbed preparation, seeding, and weed control.
Table 6. Suggested Legumes and Their Seeding Rates to Renovate Grass Pasture for
Pounds pure live
Legume species seed per acre
Red clover 10
Alfalfa & 8
Red clover 4
Red clover & 8
Ladino clover 0.5
Ladino clover 1
Birdsfoot trefoil 5
Korean lespedeza 20
Alsike clover 6
Alsike clover & 4
Ladino clover 0.5
* Lb. pure live seed = 1b. bulk seed x % pure live seed. (% pure live
seed = % purity x % germination).
Liming and Fertilizing
The first step in pasture establishment or reestablishment is to lime and fertilize the
soil according to soil test results. Sampling should be done as previously described,
except that the soil cores should be taken as deep as the tillage to be performed. Tables
3 and 4 show that lime and fertilizer rates are greater for pasture establishment than for
pasture maintenance because a primary tillage is performed and no manure fertilizer value
If limestone is needed, preferably it should be applied 6-12 months ahead of seeding to
ensure sufficient time to lower soil acidity (i.e., raise the pH). If rates recommended by
soil test are 5 tons or more per acre, apply one-half before the primary tillage and the
other half prior to a subsequent secondary tillage.
Phosphorus is the key nutrient to getting a pasture stand established. Use rates
recommended for grass-only or grass-legume establishment (Table 4) that are based upon
soil test level and yield goal. Where soil P levels are low or very low, apply at least
two-thirds of the phosphorus broadcast ahead of the primary tillage operation. Also
consider broadcasting and disking 30-40 pounds per acre of the recommendation just ahead
of seeding to provide the needed starter effect.
Potassium aids in pasture establishment by keeping the various forage species healthy
and competitive. Since grasses are much more competitive than legumes for available
potassium, the rates recommended by soil test and yield goal level are significantly
higher for grass-legume establishment than for grass-only (Table 4). If applying
additional phosphorus at seeding, include an equal amount of potassium for a starter
Nitrogen can also be important to pasture establishment. For instance, 15 pounds of
nitrogen per acre at seeding may benefit a grass-legume stand being established on light
colored soils having less than 3 percent organic matter and on coarse-textured (sandy)
soils. For establishing a grass-only pasture, apply 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre prior
to the last tillage on mineral soils. No nitrogen needs to be applied on organic soils.
Seed bed Preparation
Recommended methods for preparing the seedbed will vary depending upon a field's
surface and the previous crop grown. Basically, less tillage is required where the field
surface is smooth and little crop residue is present. In fact, if the surface is smooth
and the previous crop was corn silage, soybeans, small grain, or sod, tillage may not be
needed at all. In these cases, one would merely have to seed using a no-till drill,
provided soil pH, phosphorus, and potassium were found to be adequate. Renovating the
existing sod by seeding a legume is usually preferred to destroying the sod with a
moldboard plow or the herbicide Roundup.
If the field surface is uneven and the previous crop was corn silage, soybeans, or a
small grain, a straight-shanked chisel plow or tandem disk should provide adequate primary
tillage. These implements incorporate most of the residue but leave enough on the surface
to minimize soil erosion until additional tillage is performed. Use a tandem disk or field
cultivator for the first secondary tillage, then harrow either at the same time or as a
separate operation. For the final tillage, consider using a soil conditioner. Also
consider firming the field with a cultipacker just ahead of seeding. A loose seedbed can
reduce stand establishment because of poor seed-soil contact.
If the previous crop was corn grain, a moldboard plow or twisted-shanked chisel plow
should be the primary tillage tool since more residue will be incorporated. To minimize
soil erosion, use the chisel plow (not a moldboard) it the land slopes more than 4
percent. The secondary tillage and optional soil-firming operations are discussed above.
Table 8. Seeding Dates and Rates of Grass Species Used for Horse Pasture.
Grass species Seeding date(s) per acre
Kentucky Feb. 1 - May 1 or 5-10
bluegrass Aug. 1 - Sept. 15
Orchardgrass Mar. 1 - May 1 or 10
Aug. 1 - Sept. 1
Reed Mar. 1 - May 1 or 6-8
canarygrass Aug. 1 - Sept. 1
Ryegrass Mar. 1 - May 1 or 15-20
Aug. 1 - Sept. 1
Smooth Feb. 1 - May 1 or 10-15
bromegrass Aug. 1 - Sept. 1
Tall fescue Mar. 1 - May 1 or 15
Aug. 1 - Sept. 1
Timothy Feb. 1 - May 1 or 5-6
Aug. 1 - Nov. 1 3-4
Use Table 7 for selecting the grass or grass-legume species best suited to your needs
and conditions. Then refer to Table 8 for recommended seeding rates and planting dates of
grass species, and Table 9 for seeding rates of grass-legume mixtures.
Sow a grass-legume mixture within the time span suggested in Table 8 for pure grass
seedings, with the following exceptions: (1) a timothy-legume late-summer seeding should
be completed before September 1 in southern Indiana and August 15 in northern Indiana, and
(2) the clovers and Korean lespedeza should be spring-seeded only.
Selection of the proper seeding date is important. Planting too early or too late in
the summer-seeding period can cause the young seedlings to be killed by drought in summer
or by cold weather in winter; and Weed pressure may be greater if spring planting is
delayed. Generally, in northern Indiana, plan to plant in the latter part of the
spring-seeding period and earlier part of the late-summer-seeding period shown in Table 8.
In southern Indiana, plant earlier in the spring-seeding period and later in the
late-summer- seeding period.
Be sure that all legume seed has been inoculated with the proper rhizobia bacteria or
buy pre-inoculated seed. This ensures that the nitrogen-fixation process will occur.
There are several ways to sow forage crops successfully. These include a grain drill
with small seed legume box attached, the "Brillion" seeder, a no-till drill with
small seed legume box, and a broadcast seeder. If the seedbed is not firm before seeding,
it should be cultipacked. If the grain drill has chain drags or has press wheels that are
not firming the soil after seed placement, attach a cultipacker behind the drill or do it
in a separate operation. If broadcasting, the field should be cultipacked immediately
Minimizing weed pressure is very important to successful pasture establishment. Here
are four ways to reduce this pressure during the critical period of forage seedling
1.Timely seeding. Seeding early in the spring permits the forage seedlings to begin
growth before summer-annual weeds germinate.
2.Providing a companion crop. A small grain companion crop (e.g. oats or wheat) will
reduce weed pressure by competitive growth. Because they establish so quickly, small
grains will also reduce soil loss where erosion is a concern. The crop eventually can be
harvested for forage or for grain. If grain from the companion crop is to be harvested, do
not graze after the plants begin to joint (elongation of the stem internodes).
In the late winter, forage seed can be interseeded or broadcast into established and
adapted small grains (soft red winter wheat, statewide, and winter barley in southern
Indiana). If the small grain is too competitive, chances for forage establishment are
reduced. Reducing the seeding rate and nitrogen fertilizer rate can improve chances of
forage seeding establishment.
3.Applying herbicides. An excellent choice for annual broadleaf weed control in newly
sown grass-legume pastures is 2,4-DB. Application should occur before weeds are greater
than 3 inches tall and when legumes are 2-3 inches tall or in the 3- to 4-leaf stage of
growth. Do not graze or feed treated plant parts for 60 days after application.
4.Mowing. Weed pressure, particularly broadleaf weeds, can also be reduced by mowing
several times during forage establishment. Set the cutting height above the young forage
plants. The mulch created by mowing should not smother the forage seedlings. If it does,
the mulch should be removed or mowing discontinued and a herbicide application considered.
MAINTAINING RENOVATED OR REESTABLISHED PASTURE
Once a pasture has been renovated or reestablished, the following management practices
will promote vigorous, healthy plant growth and also extend the pasture's productive life.
Divide the acreage into at least two and preferably more pastures so the horses can be
kept off each pasture for periods of 3-4 weeks. This amount of time is necessary to permit
forage regrowth and increase plant vigor. The length of the rest period will depend
greatly upon stocking rate, time of year, rainfall, and the forage species present.
Remove horses from a pasture when tall-growing grasses are 4 inches in height and
Kentucky bluegrass is 2 inches in height. Do not overgraze any one area, since this
quickly reduces the amount of legume in the stand and increases the presence of weeds. On
the other hand, don't undergraze either because this allows the forages to mature and
become less palatable and nutritious. If the grass is beginning to head, consider making
hay on that acreage.
Horses have been known to selectively graze one forage species in preference to another
and to avoid eating forage soiled with manure. One solution would be to follow the horses
with other species of livestock (if you have them), since they will often graze what
As with all livestock, horses can easily founder (a severe, chronic hoof lameness) when
they are first introduced to a lush pasture in the spring. This can be avoided by turning
them out into the new pasture only a few hours at a time initially, then building up
gradually to full-time grazing. Feeding horses hay before the initial turn out to pasture
also decreases overconsumption of lush forage. Grazing is not recommended when the soil is
wet and muddy as the horses' hooves can cause damage to the small forage seedlings. A
holding area or dry lot for such occasions is recommended.
Table 9. Seeding Rates of Grass-Legume Mixtures Used for Horse Pasture.
Grass-ONE only (lb. pure live seed/arce)
Orchard Tall brome- canary- Tim- Kentucky
Legumes (lb. pure live seed/arce) grass fescue grass grass othy bluegrass
Primary legume Secondary legume
Alfalfa 8-10 ---- 4-6 8-10 5-7 --- 2-4 2-4
Alfalfa 4-6 Red clover 4-6 4-6 8-10 5-7 --- 2-4 2-4
Alfalfa 6-8 Ladino clover 1/4 4-6 8-10 5-7 --- 2-4 2-4
Red clover 6-8 --- 4-6 8-10 5-7 --- 2-4 2-4
Red clover 4-6 Ladino clover 1/4 4-6 8-10 5-7 --- 2-4 2-4
Red clover 4-6 Korean lespedeza 8 4-6 8-10 5-7 --- 2-4 2-4
Alsike clover 3-4 ---- 4-6 8-10 5-7 3-5 2-4 2-4
Alsike clover 2 Ladino clover 1/4 4-6 8-10 5-7 3-5 2-4 2-4
Birdsfoot trefoil 5 ---- 4-6 8-10 -- 3-5 2-4 2-4
Ladino clover 1 ---- 4-6 8-10 5-7 3-5 2-4 2-4
After the horses are moved to a new pasture, mow the just-grazed pasture to the desired
height for the species present, as discussed in the section above. Pasture regrowth is
more palatable to the horse and has higher nutrient composition than mature plants.
Clipping also helps reduce weed pressure and the risk of eye irritation caused by mature
A properly managed pasture that is not over-grazed and is well-fertilized should not
allow weeds to predominate. However, if this occurs, apply appropriate herbicides in the
While the pasture is being rested, drag it with a chain harrow to spread out the manure
piles. Dragging should be done at least twice during the grazing season and preferably
immediately after clipping.
Dragging destroys many internal parasite eggs by exposing them to the sun, and reduces
selective grazing by horses, which tend to avoid areas that are soiled by manure. The
fertilizer value of manure is also enhanced when it is evenly distributed on the pasture.
Nitrogen fertilizer will be needed each year in any predominately grass pasture.
One-half should be applied in the very early spring, one-fourth after the initial spring
grazing, and one-fourth in early September. This will improve summer production of
cool-season grasses. A pasture with greater than 30 percent legumes will require no
nitrogen fertilizer. Preferred sources of nitrogen, application alternatives, and rates
needed depending on yield expectations are discussed earlier and summarized in Table 5.
Phosphorus and potassium should also be applied on an annual basis according to the
yield goal and type of pasture (see Table 4). Periodic Soil Testing
Pastures should be soil tested about every 3-4 years to determine the need for
additional lime and fertilizer. To maintain legumes in the pasture, the soil pH,
phosphorus and potassium levels are critical factors. Procedures for taking soil samples
and recommended application rates depending on the soil test report were presented
Legumes do not persist in grass-legume pastures forever and need to be reseeded
periodically. Over-grazing and poor soil fertility shorten legume longevity. Legumes
should be re-introduced when they contribute less than 30 percent of the pasture's total
forage production. Methods for renovating a predominately grass pasture with legumes have
already been discussed.
Copies of the following publications are available free to Indiana residents through
your Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service Office or from the Publications
Mailing Room, 301 South Second Street, Lafayette, IN 47905-1092:
AS-434 Introduction to Horse Management
AY-60 Reed Canarygrass
AY-251 Improving Pastures by Renovation
AY-253 Forage Selection and Seeding Guide for Indiana
AY-258 Minimizing Tall Fescue Toxicity
AY-263 Producing Emergency or Supplemental Forages for Livestock
ID-139 Birdsfoot Trefoil Production and Utilization in Indiana
EC-623 Pasture Leases
WS-9 Indiana Plants Poisonous to Livestock and Pets
AS-440 Should I Buy a Horse for My Child?
AS-460 Recognizing and Maintaining the Healthy Horse
AS-429 Nutritional Management for Horses
ID-189 Moldy Corn Poisoning in Horses
Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics, State of Indiana,
Purdue University and U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperating. H.A. Wadsworth,
Director, West Lafayette, IN. Issued in furtherance of the Acts of May 8 and June 30,
1914. It is the policy of the Cooperative Extension Service of Purdue University that all
persons shall have equal opportunity and access to our programs and facilities.