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Your Horse:
Selection Of The Horse
Conformation Of Horses
Disposition Of Horses
Saddlery And Equipment For Horses
Care Of Saddlery And Leather
Feeds And Bedding For Horses
Horse Stables
Horse Pastures
The Veterinarian
Care Of Horse Feet And Shoeing
In Or Out Of The Stable
Transporting Horses
Basic Physiology Of Horses
Genetic Considerations Of Horses

Horse And Farm Pastures

( Originally Published 1954 )

Those who were not raised on a farm have paid very little, attention to, grass or have ans idea of its significance. True, we see it on our lawns, in the parks, and on the golf courses. It looks nice and sometimes takes a bit of doing to keep in shape: There our concern usually ends. The average city dweller would probably define a pasture as a fenced in place where the farmer raises no crops, and animals are turned out to nibble something provided by nature. Even farmers in the past have inclined somewhat towards this view. They have. used their poorest lands for pasture and have plowed up the best soil in the belief that it is more profitable to raise crops.

In the past few years there has been a tremendous re-awakening of interest in grass and a realization of its importance. A philosophic understanding of the function of grass, was expressed by J. J. Ingalls when he. wrote "Grass is the forgiveness of nature—her constant benediction. Fields trampled with battle, saturated with blood, torn. with the ruts of cannon, grow green again with grass, and carnage is forgotten. Streets abandoned- by traffic become grass-grown like rural, lanes, and are obliterated; forests decay,. harvests; perish, flowers vanish, but grass is immortal. Beleaguered by, the. sullen hosts. of winter it withdraws into, the impregnable fortress of its subterranean vitality and emerges upon solicitation of spring. Sown by the winds, by wandering birds, propagated by the subtle horticulture of the elements, which are its ministers and servants, it softens the rude outline of the world. Its tenacious fibers hold the earth in its place, and prevent its soluble components from washing ino the sea. It invades the solitude of deserts, climbs the inaccessible slopes and forbidden pinnacles of mountains, modifies climates and determines the history, character and destiny of nations. Unobtrusive and patient, it has immortal vigor and aggression. Banished from the thoroughfare and field, it bides its time to return, and when vigilance is relaxed, or the dynasty has perished, it silently resumes the throne from which it has been expelled but which it never abdicates. It yields no fruit in earth or air, and yet should its harvest fail for a single year famine would depopulate the world."

Soil and native grasses once lost take many years to re-turn. It takes nature a thousand years to build an inch of topsoil, while man with the proper use of grasses, fertilizers, and modern machinery can restore the soil to fertility in a very few years. The economic value of grass can best be understood by the consideration of these few figures. In 1948 the national income was approximately two hundred billion dollars. Of this agriculture accounted for twenty billions, and of the seventeen billions produced by livestock over one-half was the direct result of the assimilation of grass by gra-ring animals. In the same year the mining industry produced four billions and the automobile industry seven billions so we can readily see that grass is big business.

In the pioneering days our grassland prairies were once over two hundred and fifty million acres, but with the ad-vent of cultivated crops and intensive farming that figure is now reduced to the neighborhood of eighteen millions of acres. About half of the United States can produce year round pastures. Many other areas can be increased two to four months each year by suitable pasture methods. Grass is not only the best food but it is the cheapest. Green grass on a dry basis has a protein value of about sixteen to eighteen percent. The man and horse hours of labor to produce an acre of grass are about one-tenth of those needed to produce an acre of grain. Milk, beef, and poultry can be produced on pasture at one-quarter to one-half the cost of feeding them with harvested crops of hay and grain. Not only is grass a great producer of food, but it is a conserver of the soil from which it grows. Erosion and loss of topsoil from wind and rain are reduced to the minimum. It has been estimated that a field in grass pasture may lose three-tenths of a ton of topsoil as compared to twenty-four and six-tenths tons of topsoil when corn is planted. In other words, grass is eighty-two times as effective in maintaining the soil as is a cultivated crop.

From the standpoint of the horseman grass offers tremendous advantages. It will make better and healthier horses, because the supply of minerals and vitamins will be adequate and the horses will have exercise as they do their own food gathering. The chores of feeding and stable cleaning will be tremendously reduced and the cost of both hay and grain will be halved. In these days of extremely high labor costs a horse becomes a rather expensive luxury when every bit of food must be baled or thrashed and then be moved and removed through the hands of various shippers and dealers before it arrives at the barn. Last but not least, the use of pasture will improve the land and make it more valuable than when the program was started.

Every horseman dreams of having pastures of his own, but this may be impossible if you live in or near the larger cities. Not much can be done if we have an acre or less with which to work. Since we want our horses to have the benefit of exercise throughout the year, that means that the soil will be cut up in the winter time and so soiled and trampled that very little will be left. In many -regions the small enclosures are called dry paddocks; they -are used entirely for exercise and no attempt is made to produce any feed. If you are fortunate enough to have two, three, or ten acres you can have good pastures to produce a large percent of the feed your horses require.

Economic factors weigh heavily upon the suburbanite. From a practical standpoint pasture cannot pay its way unless ,the value of the grass produced is equal to that of the interest on the land investment and the taxes. Some-times -we see property adjoining us and we would like to ,buy it for more pasture, but usually this is a luxury and entirely impractical. With suburban land frequently running from one to three thousand dollars an acre it is obvious that the interest alone on this investment would buy far :more of the best type of hay than could be possibly produced. This does not take into consideration the ever-increasing taxes which in most cases have risen to two or three times their pre-war level.

Several of my friends who have established horse ranches near a major city have found themselves engulfed by the rising tide of population to such an extent that their land values and taxes have made it impossible for them to continue. It is true that this enhanced land value was a capital gain, but they were still out a horse ranch. If you contemplate the purchase of a small farm where you can have your own horses be sure to consult with reputable brokers and .satisfy yourself that the price of the acreage and the taxes thereon are in line with the pasture you intend to establish. It is a discouraging thing to spend four years and a lot of money, enriching sour soil and constructing fences, only to find the subdivision realtor and the tax gatherer standing like twin wolves at your door.

Let us assume, however, that you have a few acres that are economically sound for the maintaining of horses and you. wish. to, make the most of them. The- first thing to be, done is to secure: an accurate evaluation, of the condition of your soil and the grasses already, present. When the report is in you. will probably be surprised to find, how inefficient your lands are- in their present state.. Tremendous strides in pasture improvement have been made in the past few years and most of. this new information can be had for the asking if you will turn to the proper sources. The first one to consult is your county agent,. extension agent or farm, adviser.. These well trained men act in a triple capacity which ties together the facilities of the U. S. Department of Agriculture,. the Land Grant College of the State, and.. the County authorities. They are usually members of the faculty of the extension service of the State College or University., and enjoy academic rank commensurate with their attainments. The services of your agent are available without charge to all who farm or raise livestock. They, accept their role as teachers and advisers in a spirit of help-fulness which is truly gratifying. Your agent can do simple chemical tests of your soil,. usually without charge, or tell you where- samples may be sent and how they... should be prepared.

The next source: of information is the- State Department of Higher Education, since nearly all States have one or more Agricultural Schools in the system-. Another excellent source of information, is the State Experimental. Station. They have- made extensive studies of the soils of the State, their good points and their deficiencies, and the types of crops and" grasses- which can best be grown in every area. My State is probably no more forward looking than many others and here one can write. to the State College and receive excellent booklets. specifically adapted to, various, sections and. even specific counties.. Last but not least is the U. S. Department of Agriculture which has its soil conservation and agricultural stations throughout the United States and also an amazing collection of pamphlets and books describing various plants and grasses, and where and how they may be used to the best advantage.

There are tremendous Variations in the agricultural problems of the country which make it impossible to give any-thing but a bare outline in a volume of this type. There are over four thousand species of grass in the world and fifteen hundred known strains in the United States. Each has its own particular virtues, defects, and suitabilities.

Good pastures produce heavy yields of high quality feed; but if these yields are to be maintained there must be a constant supply of available plant foods in the soil: Nitrogen to make a lush growth high in protein; phosphorus, lime and sulfur to supply the legume growth and make feed rich in minerals. All come from the soil, and the soil under pasture is depleted as with any other crop. Fertilizers on the pastures pay by increasing the yields, by providing bet-ter feeds, and, for the future, pay through an increased accumulation of high quality organic matter to help succeeding crops. The yield from a pasture depends more on the nitrogen supply than on any other plant foods. Fortunately legumes can obtain part of their supply from the air and, as good neighbors, share it with companion grasses. Barnyard manure is a good supply of nitrogen, although supply on most farms seldom equals the need. Even though pastures contain legumes, and are treated with manure, the supply is often too little and nearly always too late. Pastures without legumes require additional nitrogen each year. Good stands of perennial grasses can profitably use nitrogen fertilizers supplying forty to eighty pounds of nitrogen per acre each season. On pastures containing legumes, twenty to forty pounds of nitrogen may be enough. The yield under irrigation can be carried up to almost in-credible heights by heavier applications of nitrogen, even up to forty pounds a month all season. Heavy doses of nitrogen may drive out legumes unless accompanied by phosphate fertilizers. The advantage of commercial nitrogen is that it is immediately available and applications made early in the spring will help pasture growth by March or April, a time when it is most needed. Fall applications of nitrogen on fescue or rye grass frequently makes good green grass all winter. Twenty pounds of nitrogen will be supplied by one hundred pounds of ammonium sulphate, sixty pounds of ammonium nitrate, one hundred and twenty-five pounds of sodium nitrate, one hundred and twenty-five pounds of 16-20, or one hundred and eighty pounds of 11-48. The last two fertilizers also carry phosphorus and are ideal materials to use on mixtures of grasses and legumes.

Legumes require much more phosphorus than grasses, and the hill soils have much less available phosphorus than do the valley floor soils. The ordinary use of phosphate fertilizers is necessary to maintain a hardy vigorous stand of legumes on many hill soils, and is a must on the high-producing irrigated pastures. Phosphorus is best applied in the fall. Sixty pounds of phosphorus (P2O5) per acre is considered an average treatment; this amount of phosphorus can be supplied by three hundred pounds of twenty per-cent superphosphate, one hundred and thirty-five pounds of forty-five percent treble phosphate, or one hundred and twenty-five pounds of 11-48-0. Legumes usually respond to sulfur, usually applied as landplaster, ordinary superphosphate, ammonium sulfate, or ammonium phosphate (16-20). Straight sulfur is used only under very special conditions. When landplaster is applied alone, apply about one hundred pounds per acre. It is best applied in early spring. Sulfur equal to one hundred pounds of landplaster is sup-plied by two hundred pounds of ordinary eighteen to twenty percent superphosphate, sixty-six pounds of ammonium sulfate, or one hundred and thirty pounds of 16-20 ammonium phosphate.

Lime is necessary to obtain and maintain a standard of legumes. Hill soils are especially deficient. Lime is not as great a factor in the production. of straight grasses, and some,. clovers may even grow without additional lime; but in general the addition of lime will work wonders in a worn out and sour soil. If: the tests show the need for lime it is usually wise to apply one or two tons per acre. It is best to apply lime before seeding. One application may last five years or longer. There are certain other chemicals which may be required in various small amounts. They are the so-called trace elements. No general rules can be formulated for these except that they should be added in those areas in which they are generally known to be deficient.

If irrigation is at all feasible be sure to take advantage-of it because the returns will be many times the cost. There are many sections where four crops of alfalfa are produced instead of one by the addition of sufficient water. That is, only an example of what may be expected with grasses. However, if you are on- the outskirts of a city and paying for metered water, you might as well forget this part of the project. Overhead sprinkling and various forms of irrigation each have their advocates and particular values. It. is truly amazing to go. through Central Washington or Central. Oregon and see the beautiful crops produced on those lands which were nothing but a desert before the big dams and irrigation projects gave them all the moisture they needed.

A few definite principles apply in the management of pastures and they are, generally speaking, universal. A pasture with a legume will yield roughly twice as much as will the same pasture without a legume. The legume drags the unwilling nitrogen down from the air and pays for board and room by supplying nitrogen to the grass. A pasture may increase in yield through rotation with other crops. A permanent pasture is not always the best use of the land. Steep slopes or eroding lands, however, should be left in grass indefinitely. Pasture grass as a builder of organic matter is the most valuable asset we have. Grass roots are. produced in enormous quantities and each year much of the root system dies, while new roots push up and absorb the plant food liberated by those decaying. Thus the top foot of pasture soil is a teeming chemical laboratory working out intricate soil fertility problems in an endeavor to help the owner.

The same practice year in and year out, repeated at the same time each year, will affect the pasture adversely by reducing -the number of grasses. Thus if one turns stock into pasture each spring when it is three inches high, or hay is cut at the same stage of maturity—some grasses will be hurt and others helped. A year or two of such hurting may not matter but eventually the injured species dies.

Clip pastures with the mowing machine whenever they start to seed -or when they get bunchy. Clip at least once or twice every season, and perhaps more if the land is irrigated. Mowing helps to keep unpalatable species and weeds under •control. Waste of good feed is prevented as horses do not like mature, woody growth. Clipping helps to maintain a good balance of grasses and legumes.

Overgrazing is the ruination of all pastures. Try to move your horses to another field when the average height of the grasses is still four or five inches. It is best to divide your pasture acreage into several plots and rotate as the grass is eaten down. It is particularly important for a pasture to enter the winter season with a good growth so that it can carry on and develop during the cold season. On non-irrigated lands grasses should be allowed to re-seed every three years if the stand is losing its vigor. This is not so much to scatter new seed as it is to replace the root .system of the :grasses already there. This rule .does not apply to irrigated pastures.

Involved expensive mixtures are a waste of money. Usually a few of the best grasses and one or two legumes will outyield more complicated mixtures. Local information as w .the proper grass and legume mixture is essential. It is far better to plant those strains known to be right for your area than to rely upon the vague generalizations found in the catalogue of a distant seed company. One should not expect oo many grasses to live happily together. Mixtures should sometimes be varied within a field, depending upon wet and dry spots and soil and other conditions. Another absolute "must." is the inoculation of all legume seeds with the bacterial cultures which give them their growth and their nitrogen gathering ability. This is usually done just before seeding and care must be taken to avoid loss of bacterial activity by hot sun and wind before the seeds are safely sown.

Young grass is far higher in protein than mature grass. This fact is particularly important in considering the additional protein requirements of your horses. When grass is mature, no matter how plentiful the supply, additional protein is needed. Palatability is an important factor but not as important as people formerly thought, providing the grasses are clean and grown upon a rich soil. In the chapter on hay and grain we stressed the importance of the soil on which the forage was grown. This is doubly true in pasture grasses. The chemical composition of grass may change markedly with the soil type. In general the less fertile soil gives pasture grass of a lower feeding value. The mineral supply in the soil lasts at least five times as long in a field used for pasture as when it is plowed up for early crops. No crop can use available soil facilities as well as a good pasture. This is true because some grass or legume is growing every day of the year. A pasture is thus a twelve months' employee working for the owner. Pasture mixtures containing legume require less nitrogen than straight grass but sooner or later they will need phosphorus and may need lime.

One of the most interesting experiments in grasses for horses was done by McFarlane, Hart and Errington at the Mayer Ranch in California. Approximately four acres were set aside for testing. In November 1941 a wide range of grasses and legumes were planted in pure stands and various mixtures were also planted in an experimental four acres. After the grass had been eaten down by cattle the field was allowed to grow up to a desirable height for horse pasture, and then three or four horses were put into the pasture and watched for several days to see what they ate and particularly what they didn't eat. This was repeated over and over from spring to fall. Samples of the grasses and legumes were analyzed for phosphorus and calcium, and even the ,blood calcium relationships of the horses were studied. After weighing all possible factors a mixture to provide sixty to seventy percent grass by weight and thirty to forty percent legumes by weight was selected as the ideal. The mixture had a calcium-phosphorus ratio of two to one, or three to one, which is regarded as being the desirable calcium-phosphorus range. This mixture was adopted and the ranch seeded as rapidly as possible. It was reported as being exceptionally satisfactory. Their mixture is recorded here only as an example of one found to be particularly successful in a certain region of the country. It was as follows: Perennial rye grass five pounds, orchard grass three pounds, tall fescue seven pounds, annual rye grass one pound, alfalfa two and a half pounds, red clover two and a half pounds. Total twenty-one pounds per acre.

An ideal species of pasture grass is characterized by the following—vigor, resistance to drought and disease, palatability and nutrient value. It should be able to maintain itself by its own seeding. The following is a brief list of some of the better pasture grasses, each one, of course, having its own special habitat and growing conditions.

Big blue stem Little blue stem Buffalo Indian 'Switch Grama Smooth Brome Kentucky Blue Grass Orchard Grass Crested Wheat Grass Perennial Rye Grass Bermuda Johnson Dallis Bahia Tall Fescues

All in all if you are raising a pasture it is similar to the raising of horses or other living things. We have the two factors of heredity and environment. Under the first we must consider the types of seeds and plants suited to our needs, and then we must. prepare the environment with the necessary water, minerals, fertilizers, seeding and tilling.

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