Management Tips for Healthy Horses, Livestock & Clean Water
By Karin Hunt, Shadysprings Farm
What’s good for the horse is good for the water! Proper grazing, parasite control, and manure and dirt management will help keep horses healthy and streams and irrigation water clean. Please read on for how to wisely manage your horse property and meet legal requirements.
Vegetation along streams protects the water from excessive heating, filters out potential pollutants in runoff, and stabilizes banks. Horse access to streams can result in trampled and muddy banks, manure in the water and horse injuries. To protect horse safety and health and prevent water pollution, fence horses out of streams and maintain an un-grazed vegetated buffer next to the stream. Provide safe offstream drinking water, such us via a nose pump or water trough.
Over-grazed pastures lead to soil erosion, increased surface water run-off, noxious & potentially toxic weeds, and a continual decline in the volume and quality of forage every year. Horses also suffer from inhaling dust. Healthy pastures produce more economical forage: estimated at $30 / ton vs. $270 / ton for hay!
A simple rule of thumb for pasture management is to “graze at 8, no more at 4.” This means graze when grass is about 8” tall and take horses off pastures at 4” of height, to allow the grass to re-grow. Also, keep livestock off wet pastures, which are easily damaged. Cross-fence to divide your pasture into at least 3 smaller pastures. Rotate your horses through the pastures, providing at least 3 weeks of pasture rest. This also allows time for the sun to kill parasite larvae.
The average 1000-pound horse produces 50 pounds of manure per day. That’s 9 tons or 6 pick-up loads per year, and approximately $1,250 in fertilizer value! Following are a few suggestions for wise use of this valuable resource.
Harrow your fields regularly, if possible, to incorporate standing manure into your soil. Harrowing has multiple benefits: it makes manure nutrients available to your pasture grasses, helps prevent bacteria and excess nutrients from entering water; exposes parasite larvae to sunlight; and encourages horses to graze pastures more uniformly. They otherwise tend to designate one area as a “bathroom,” which they will under-graze while over-grazing other areas. Keeping your horse on a regular worming schedule avoids a cycle of disease.
Compost your manure to reduce the volume of waste, make great fertilizer, and kill weed seeds and parasites with the heat generated from the process. Cover your pile during wet weather to keep nutrients from leaching out. Give away or sell compost, or apply to fields after letting sit 6 months.
Mud and Dust
An “all-weather paddock,” or sacrifice area, is a key part of most well-managed horse properties. Keep your horses here in winter to allow pasture grass to re-grow, protect saturated ground, and manage the amount of green grass your horses are eating. Think of it as a horse’s “living room,” with the pasture as the “dining room.” Use surfacing such as gravel and sand to provide adequate drainage and greatly reduce mud and dust. A regularly cleaned paddock will nearly eliminate mud, and control pollution and horse health. If you would be concerned about standing in your own waste, think the same for your horse!
Direct surface water run-off toward a vegetative buffer to avoid contaminating streams and groundwater with excess nutrients. Divert rainwater around the paddock with gutters and downspouts on the buildings to keep clean water clean.
Call West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District at (503) 238-4775 or email info [at] westmultconserv [dot] org to request technical assistance with your horse property (or other rural land). Cost-share is also sometimes available. We can help you manage your property for better water quality and horse health!