Grasses, Weeds & Poisonous Plants
Photographer: Christian Fischer
Grasses in a pasture for horses must have two characteristics; palatability and digestibility. Grasses that are too stalky and coarse are not palatable enough for horses and there must be a balance between grasses that provide fibre and lush grass to aid digestibility.
When deciding what grasses to sow, take into account the dates at which the grasses come into flower and are at their most nutritional stage. You should choose a mixture of early and late grasses to provide a good level of nutrition throughout the spring and summer.
Suitable grasses to use are as follows:
There are several different varieties of rye grass and they usually grow well in rich soil. Two different varieties should make up approximately 50% of the seed mixture.
Meadow Fescue provides a good turf for a paddock. Two different types should be selected to make up 25% of the seed mixture.
Rough Stalked Meadow Grass is suitable to be sown on wet land and should make up 5 - 10 % of the seed mix.
Smooth Stalked Meadow Grass is very suitable for dry land and it is able to withstand drought condition. It can be used for 5 - 10% of the seed mix.
Crested Dogs Tail could be used for 5 - 10% of the seed mix and a small amount of Wild White Clover can be used as it enhances soil fertility, but care must be taken that the clover does not take over the paddock.
Timothy is a grass that is suited to hay and grows well in loams and clay soils.
Cocksfoot is suitable for dry areas and it is a hard wearing grass.
Highland Bent Grass is a very hard wearing grass and it is suitable to be used in gateways and in fields where horses are exercised.
An approximate guide to the amount of seeds to be used is 30 lbs per acre or 35 kgs per hectare. This figure will change depending on the types of seeds mixed and if over-sowing of existing grass is taking place.
Unsuitable grass to be used in a pasture for horses are:
Common Bent Grass
Herbs are highly palatable and are useful for supplying minerals to your horse. They prefer infertile growing conditions so a strip could be sown along the fence line and possible herbs to use are:
Horses will not usually graze comfrey, but they enjoy it once it has been cut and slightly wilted. They also enjoy cow parsley but it does have a tendency to take over.
Weeds have a tendency to over run paddocks, most are unpalatable and some in fact are poisonous so they need to be removed from pastures as soon as possible.
Problematic weeds are follows:
Ragwort is deadly poisonous and although horses will not usually eat it while it is growing it is more palatable when it has wilted and is particularly poisonous when in hay. To get rid of ragwort it should be uprooted and burnt, but if a spray is being used it should be applied when the flower budding. Ragwort should never be mown or cut as this promotes further growth.
Thistles should be sprayed when they are at their early budding stage before they flower in June.
Dock should be sprayed in April or May and then again in August or September.
Cheekweed is a fast growing weed and it should be sprayed when it is at the seedling stage.
Nettles are harmless but they have a tendency to spread so they should be sprayed between April and September before they seed.
Buttercups are poisonous if eaten fresh but if they are in hay, they are harmless. Weed killer should be applied to eradicate them.
Poisonous plants should be removed from pastures or in the case of larger bushes or trees when removing them is not a possibility, they should be fenced off so horses cannot reach them.
Ragwort and Buttercups (discussed above) are poisonous to horses and other poisonous plants include:
It is important to remember when treating pasture with weed killer, horses should not be allowed to graze the pasture until heavy rainfall has washed the weed killer from the plants.
For specific patches of weeds a backpack spray kit is the most effective way of spraying weeds but care must be taken and manufacturers instructions should be followed at all times. If a particularly large area needs to be sprayed the advice of a contractor should be sought.
Types of weed killers include glyphosate and paraquat which are manufactured under the names Round Up and Gramoxone 100 respectively.