Pasture Management 101: Drought, Excess Rain, and Erosion
Since pasture development and renovation can be expensive endeavors, owners can and should take steps to ensure that fields continue to thrive. Environmental factors, in particular, can impact pasture quality.

For example, during times of drought, grasses might become dormant or die altogether, allowing weeds (sometimes toxic) to take their place. Overgrazing can make this even worse.

“Owners should be cautious if horses are hungry as they may increase consumption of weeds or toxic plants and thus alternative safe forage sources should be provided in those instances,” said Jennie Ivey, MS, PhD, assistant professor and extension equine specialist at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

During times of drought, manage horses to reduce grazing time or provided additional forage to reduce grazing pressure.

On the other hand, if periods of excessive rainfall make pastures wet and muddy, horses avoid turning horses out on pasture to avoid tearing up the existing grass stand. Also, poor pasture management can also result in free-standing water where there is no plant life to absorb water from the soil. The standing water can provide a breeding ground for biting insects, which can transmit various potentially deadly diseases to horses.

Both Ivey and Dewitt Simerly, a district conservationist with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources and Conservation Service, recommend implementing a rotational grazing system and managing manure in pastures, as horses will not eat where they defecate.

Other horse behaviors can also make the pasture management challenging. Horses will, for example, often spot-graze. This makes it difficult to keep an established stand in certain areas and to keep other areas from becoming overgrown.

If pastures are not correctly managed, they become at risk for soil erosion loss. Soil erosion can cause poor pasture quality due to a lack of nutrients present in the top soil, due to increased run off. Most often, soil erosion is seen in high traffic areas such as along fence lines and near feeding and watering areas but it can also be seen throughout the pasture in areas of spot grazing where little to no pasture grasses are present.

Using rotational grazing, managing manure, and minimizing high-traffic areas will protect your pasture overgrazing and prevent weeds growth and soil erosion.