Betsy Gilkerson, University of Minnesota
Fall is a busy and important time of year for pasture care. Here is a list of things you can do in the next few months to keep your pastures looking great, and give them a boost for next year.
Seed Pasture Grasses- August 15th to September 15th are the best time of year to see or reseed your pastures (usually adequate moisture, less weed competition, and cool, desirable weather conditions). Common grass species used are Timothy, Orchard Grass, and Smooth Brome. Turf-type lawn grasses like Kentucky bluegrass can be used for higher traffic areas and serve as a good base for your pasture.
Take Soil Samples- See if your pastures need any nutrients. Anytime from now until the ground freezes is a good time to take samples because the soils are drier and more stable. The plants have also taken up the majority of nutrients for the season.
Dispose of Manure- If you are going to fertilize your pastures with manure, sample the manure first so you know how much you should spread. Only spread manure on your pastures if you have more than 2 acres per horse. However, spreading additional mature (other than what the horse naturally leaves behind) on your pasture can result in greater chances of parasite exposure. Never the less, its nice to remove your manure pile once a year. If you can not spread it on your pasture, hire a local farmer or landscaper to remove the manure for you.
Fertilize- Use compost or a commercial fertilizer and drag manure piles in your pasture. As stated above, test your soils first so you know how much you need. Often, only nitrogen is needed in pastures since manure provides quite a bit of phosphorus.
Weed Control- If you want to control perennial weeds with an herbicide, now is the time. Perennial plants are storing nutrients for winter in their roots. As the nutrients go into the roots, so will the herbicide, giving the best change for a successful kill. It is best to have mowed the perennials though out the summer so they are not so mature. Herbicides usually work best on re-growth or plants that are 4-8 in height. Mowing 3 to 4 times though out the year will help keep all weeds in check, but never mow your pasture shorter than 4.
Check fences- Make sure your fences are in good shape before the snow flies. Pay special attention to posts, and fix any broken posts before they are frozen into the ground.
Rest The Pasture- If you have a pasture that is over-grazed, rest it for the remainder of the year. This will give the grass a chance to store up nutrients for next year, so the pasture will be healthier in the spring. On average, a pasture needs 30 days of rest after 1-2 weeks of grazing. However, this depends on time of year, number of horses, acreage, quantity and quality of forage, and soil fertility. Generally speaking, pasturing horses over winter causes damage to plants and offers the horse no nutrition. Keeping the horses in a sacrifice paddock where they have access to hay, water and shelter is preferred.
Get Ready to Take Animals Off During Frosts- Hoof traffic after a frost can damage grasses. Have a sacrifice area set aside where the horses can be held until the grass