Grazing Thru Winter in the Pastures
Based out here in Idaho, I always thought that it would be possible to have my horses feed and indulge in some outdoor pasture winter grazing. After all, the summers and the winters are dry and very often, the grass keeps on growing right through until Spring (when, of course, it really starts to grow again!).
I gave it a shot two years ago but I couldn’t get them grazing after early December. The problem wasn’t with the ground being too soft for them. It was the fact that the growth wasn’t there. When you’re only down to a few inches of growth, you really run the risk of the grass being damaged for the coming season – something you just can’t compromise on.
So last year I came up with a new plan of action. Normally, I hay the pastures three times in the year, but this time, I’ve only done it once. The usual management of pasture and rotational grazing continued as normal and the idea was to stock-pile the grass for the winter months ahead.
It all went to plan as I approached winter – I had a lot of grass put aside so that was to keep me going well into the middle of the cold season. That way too, I could put the horses out to pasture but without running any risk of them eating too much and destroying patches of valuable pasture.
The program went like this: In June, I made hay while the sun shone. The horses grazed on a strict rotation, only taking 3 or 4 inches. I mowed and stowed and then let the grass grow back to 8 or 9 inches again. I also ensured to keep the horses off the land during soggy times when the land was too heavy and liable to get damage – during periods of heavy rain, basically.
Then in the winter, I continued rotational grazing and sticking to the “3-4 inches and stop” rule. Even though the grass is brown, it still has plenty of sugar, though it will be low in nutrients. Also, the horses aren’t out grazing all day long. They only got out for a few hours and then in again.
The horses just prefer pasture. It’s their natural food -it’s what they want to eat and what their digestive systems are made for. This is why I’ve stuck with this idea and one of my older horses won’t even eat hay anymore – it’s pasture or nothing for her.
The other thing is that you don’t have to bother much with pest control products in the winter. Mosquito control is not needed and even though you need to know how to get rid of flies in the house, flies getting rid of them outdoors in winter are a breeze, apart from the persistent blue green fly.