UK Horse Pasture Evaluation Program: 10-Year Review

To date, the program has performed 160 evaluations representing over 30,000 farm acres in 20 counties across the state.

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The University of Kentucky (UK) Horse Pasture Evaluation Program has now completed 10 years of work on horse farms in Central Kentucky and across the state. Over this time, the program has grown tremendously and has had a significant impact on the horse industry and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The idea of having university experts evaluate commercial and private horse farms’ pasture composition began after the 2001/2002 mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS) outbreak. During this time of uncertainty, the potential benefits for a partnership between UK and the horse industry were very clear. In 2004 the UK Equine Initiative (now UK Ag Equine Programs) was born. One program that began within the initiative was the UK Horse Pasture Evaluation Program, developed by Ray Smith, PhD, professor and forage extension specialist within UK’s plant and soil sciences department, and Tom Keene, hay marketing specialist within the same department.

In its inception year (2005), university experts evaluated 14 farms (representing 1,260 acres) for species composition and sampled for tall fescue endophyte presence and ergovaline concentration. During 2014 they evaluated 17 farms, totaling more than 6,600 acres. Additional services have been added, including ergovaline analysis, GPS mapping of sample locations, and tracking of pasture composition changes over time. While the data collected in this program is valuable, the program does not measure its success based on the numbers, but on the impacts to farms and Kentucky’s horse industry.

Since its inception, program experts have visited 111 individual farms in 20 different Kentucky counties, many of which have asked the program to assess their pastures year after year. These contacts have become friends of UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and provide continued support and collaborations when needed. Several of these farms have welcomed on-farm research projects ranging from pasture management to weed control and even horse health. Farms have also supported extension events by attending or hosting events, including the annual winter program “Pastures Please!!” and the annual summer equine field day “Equine Farm and Facilities Expo.” In 2015 Pastures Please!! will be held Feb. 5 at the Fayette County Extension Office from 6-8:30 p.m

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