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Guest Opinions

Grazing Tips for Horse Owners

Written by Amy McLean

By UW Extension Equine Specialist Amy K. McLean

Many horse owners are faced with keeping horses on small acreage, which presents challenges including pasture management, manure management and parasite control.

We typically recommend 40 to 45 acres per horse in the state of Wyoming to maintain a horse’s body weight, but if an owner has to run more than one horse on small acres it’s highly recommended to offer an additional source of forage such as hay. An owner can also section their land off into smaller tracks with temporary fencing (such as electric fencing) and implement rotational grazing.

Rotational grazing will allow horses to consume forages in smaller areas and help deter selective grazing. Also, rotational grazing allows the owner to remove the horses from an area before the grass is completely eaten down to nothing. Moving the horses to the next section of land will allow the previous section to rest, and will allow for re-growth.

Another strategy that can be implemented is grazing with other species. Horse owners can graze their horses with other equine species, such as donkeys, to help increase the amount of forage in a selected area that is being utilized and consumed, as well as decrease parasite infestation. Donkeys are typically considered browsers, and will seek out particular forages that oftentimes horses will not consume, such as thistles, briars, or even plants that contain tannins.

Other livestock species can also be grazed with or after horses, such as llamas, goats, sheep or cattle. These animals, like the donkey, will often graze species of forages the horses will not consume, such as invasive weeds or forages that are higher in fiber (older stands of forage).

Another group of animals you may not have considered running with your horses are poultry. Introducing poultry species, such as chickens or turkeys, to pastures where horses are kept can actually help spread the manure and decrease parasites.

Other livestock species can also help decrease parasites by consuming forage that contains the eggs of parasites that only infect horses. Do keep in mind that some parasite species are multispecies, such as ring worm, and can easily be transmitted back and forth across species, or donkeys can serve as a host for lungworms that can be transmitted to horses. Chickens and turkey manure is often high in bacteria that can cause botulism, and this can create a concern if haylage is being made from the land they are on.

In regard to manure management, ideally we would like to remove the manure from small acreages to prevent parasites as well as to maximize the use of our land. One method of manure management is composting. On an annual basis, a 1,000-pound horse can produce close to nine tons of manure so it’s important that we remove or utilize this waste product.

For more information on keeping horses on small acreage, look for a Small Acreage Healthy Horse Workshop in your area. You can also find more information about pasture, parasite and manure management at extension.org/horses.