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Extension > Horse Extension - Research Updates > Pasture Best Management Practices on Horse Farms in MN and WI

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pasture Best Management Practices on Horse Farms in MN and WI

Data suggests that farm owners are aware of some recommended pasture best management practices for horse farms, but practices are not fully or consistently implemented.

A well-managed horse pasture can reduce environmental impacts from erosion and runoff and can promote overall horse health by providing constant access to forage. The objective of this project, conducted at the University of Minnesota, was to determine what pasture best management practices (BMPs) were being used on horse farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Data was collected from 26 horse farms that were enrolled in the University of Minnesota Pasture Management Program. Best management practices evaluated at each farm included the use of a sacrifice lot, rotational grazing use, percent ground cover, soil nutrient management, weed control, and manure storage.

Of the 26 enrolled farms, 22 were used for personal recreation, two for therapeutic riding facilities, and two were boarding facilities. Five farms had been purchased recently and had no existing pasture or horses on site; these farms were not included in the summary of data.

Of farms with existing pastures (n=21), the average number of acres allocated to pasture was 10. The average number of horses per farm was 5, resulting in a stocking density of 2 acres per horse. Seventeen farms had designated sacrifice lots. The average pasture ground cover was 88% with Kentucky bluegrass, smooth bromegrass and reed canarygrass being the predominant grasses. Three farms had used herbicide for weed control in the last three years; however, none of the farms utilized mowing as a weed control strategy. Fourteen pastures contained weeds listed as noxious weeds with Canada thistle being most prevalent, and two pastures contained plants poisonous to horses. Six farms used some form of rotational grazing, and 10 farms exhibited signs of overgrazing. Nine farms stockpiled their manure, while 7 farms had no manure management plan and essentially did "nothing" with their manure. Only 2 farms were aware of manure storage regulations. Running water (i.e. streams) or wetlands were found in, or adjacent to, pastures on 9 farms. Only 1 farm had soil sampled and fertilized previously, and soil analysis indicated that fertilization for at least one of the three primary macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) was necessary on all farms.

This data suggests that farm owners are aware of some recommended pasture BMPs for horse farms, but practices are not fully or consistently implemented.

Authors: SL Privatsky, JE Earing, JA Lamb, CC Sheaffer and KL Martinson

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