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Fall Pasture Maintenance

by Bonnie Davis

     

Summer is gone and fall weather is just outside the pasture gate.  It's time to begin thinking about how to keep pasture ground 'in place' when winter rains begin and even how to make the area better pasture for next spring. 

Ideally weed control would have begun when the first weed popped up.  Star Thistle can take control of a complete pasture if not removed before it blooms and then goes to seed.  Unfortunately, some pasture management doesn't consider weed control so now that fall is approaching and weeds are dying, it's a good time to take notes on where weed patches are the heaviest, write it down and vow that next year those sprouting weeds will go!!

Pastures tend to develop dangerous holes, sinks, rough spots and even areas of concentrated horse manure dumping.  Fall is a great time to give extra attention to these areas by either dragging or disking lightly.  With dragging, horse manure can be moved around to an even level through out the area so there are no 'high' piles' which tend to become saturated with winter rains and bogs when wet.  Ideally all horses on the property have been wormed and parasite free but if not moving the manure around and spreading it tends to kill parasite eggs and bacteria quicker than when a stack is left sitting.  Also if there is an adjoining pasture where cattle are grazed, horse manure can be spread in the cattle pasture. 

Ideally disking should be done after the first light rain.  The ground should be damp and the disking just deep enough to break the 'hard crust' of dry pasture.  Disking to deep turns the earth and any moisture down below is lost to the sun.  A light disking will turn the soil, bring water to lower level and keep moisture below the surface.     

Squirrel holes are a constant danger to grazing horses.  Fall is a great time to see squirrel holes since the pasture grass is low.  Ground squirrels dig and move dirt to the outside edges of holes consequently squirrel holes tend to grow higher than surrounding ground.  Most squirrel holes can be filled and flattened when dragging or disking a pasture but with some it takes a shovel to fill 'em up and a lot of work to keep 'em filled!!  Some squirrel holes can be two feet deep so squirrel holes are a CONSTANT danger to pasture horses.  In some cases the only way to make a pasture squirrel hole safe is removal of the ground squirrels. 

Since winter rains aren't far behind fall leaves, ditches around, in and through a pasture designed to move water should be cleaned, repaired and redug if need be.  Avoiding standing water will keep horses from 'mucking up' or 'punching holes' in pasture ground.  And since dry ground tends to shrink from around fence posts, fall is an excellent time to check all the fence posts for fence-post-wobble.  And if loose, add some more dirt around them.

Good pastures take constant management.  They don't just happen.  By managing a pasture for each of the seasons -- spring, summer, fall, winter -- horses will have a safe area to graze in for grasses that keep them happy and healthy.  For more information on pasture management, contact your local County Agriculture Commissioner.  Or contact Division of Agricultural Sciences, University of California at (800) 994-8849 and ask for copies of Leaflet 21164, "Establishing and Managing Irrigated Pastures for Horses", or Leaflet 2906, "Management of Small Pastures".

 

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