How to Choose Grass Seed for your Horses Paddock.

You may have taken on a new field. Your existing horse paddock may be worn out, full of weeds or in some cases maybe badly poached. The obvious remedy is to sow some grass seed but which mix and how to choose that mix. Before making the decision about the Grass Seed for your Horses Paddock you need to consider the following things.

Soil Testing.

Many horse owners have land that is worth £1,000 of pounds but have never done a soil test. What ever seed mixture you sow will not compensate for poor soil. Testing can be done for less than £60.00 and the results could save you a lot of money over the next few years. We do not offer a soil testing service ourselves but have set out the benefits and give some links to companies who do in the following link.       Soil Testing.

Drainage

Grass seed grows best on alkaline soils. These are predominately chalk/limestone soil types. Here the conditions will be light and the drainage good. Many horse paddocks though are on heavy clay soils and drainage can be a problem. If heavy soils and poor drainage is an issue then not resolving it will give new grass ley's little chance. The British Grassland Society and Shirley MacMillan have put together some excellent notes on this subject at http://www.britishgrassland.com/system/files/uploads/Gateways%20low%20res.pdf

Weed Control

It may well be that you have an existing field that has become over run with weeds such as buttercup and clover. If you do not have a strategy to control these weeds then it may jeopardise any new sowing. Weeds can be controlled in three main ways.

  • By regular mowing and sowing more grass.
  • By hand pulling the weeds.
  • By agrochemical control.

The BHS have produced an excellent article on pasture management including one part on weed control at

http://www.bhs.org.uk/~/media/BHS/Files/PDF%20Documents/Pasture%20Management%20Leaflet.ashx

If you need to go down the agro chemical route it is important that you get professional advice first.

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So finally you have tested the soil, sorted out the drainage and controlled the weeds what mixture should you sow.

The first main question you have to ask is, is it all for grazing or do you need to take a crop of hay from it as well. If grazing is important they you need a wide range of long term species to give the best chance of a long season of grazing. You would benefit from mixed herbs in the mix which can improve the soil structure and benefit your horses diet.

If you want a hay crop then you need to a narrow range of species. With a similar heading date. They will likely to be high yielding short term varieties.

Whilst you can take a hay crop from any grass field. You need to accept that a field that is good for grazing will not produce the highest yielding best quality hay crop. In an ideal world you would keep a small area available for hay production and sow an appropriate mix. Then keep the rest of the field for grazing on a rotation.

If we concentrate then on the mixes for horse grazing these fall into two types. Those with Perennial ryegrass and those without.

Ryegrass Free mixtures

Over the last few years concerns have grown up about ryegrass and horses.

These have largely been about two issues. One is that the ryegrass varieties have been developed which are high yielding for cattle and it is thought that this high yield may not always be healthy for some horses. Secondly it is suggested that there may be a link between high levels of sugar in the ryegrass based mixtures and increased risks of laminitis. Because of these reasons many horse owners have started to switch to non ryegrass based mixtures which are generally called natural ranges.

Ryegrass based mixtures.

For many years there have been and continue to be sown ryegrass based mixtures and horses successfully graze on them. Ryegrass is such a part of our natural habitat that it will always be growing in most fields even if you did not sow any.

You have to choose which route you wish to go down but there are mixtures now available that will give you a good result which ever route you choose.

Which species need to be in the mixes?

Before you choose which mix to buy check that at least some of the following species are in your mix for horse paddock grazing.

Timothy - it is a perennial grass species with shallow & fibrous roots used for pasture, hay production and forage for horses. One of the benefits of timothy is it's palatability for horses.

Smooth Stalk Meadow Grass It is also sometimes called Kentucky Bluegrass it has many favourable qualities including its vigorous creeping growth via rhizomes, tolerance to close grazing, and high palatability.

Creeping Red Fescue a small amount of this in the mixture is good as it has creeping roots which enable it to remain green in dry times. Pastures may benefit from this species as it makes a good bottom to the ley and reduces risk of poaching.

Meadow Fescue  is a good alternative to Perennial Ryegrass it does a particularly well on heavier ground. Meadow Fescue has an early spring growth, with a re-growth consisting mainly of leafy shoots. It is suitable for both cutting and grazing.

Other species that can benefit a horse pasture are;

Cocksfoot it’s deep roots mean it can do well in drought conditions

Sheep’s fescue copes well with stress such as cold,drought and some shade

Chewing’s fescue does well on sandy soil , drought and shade tolerant

Rough Stalk Meadow Grass Its preferred habitat is moist, sheltered places. Its herbage is plentiful and fairly nutritious.

The most common mixed herbs are

Chicory.a perennial herb known for its tough, twiglike stems and bright blue flowers, is a nutritious alternative food source for some types of livestock.

Yarrow Very common growing in the wild across the UK can help lift trace elements in the soil.

Sheep’s Parsley It is mineral rich high in Iron and Vitamin C

Sheep’s Burnet a fast establishing perennial which can give some summer feed

Ribgrass has deep roots which can help improve the soil structure.

 Conclusion

  • Check the soil, check the drainage and check the weeds.
  • Decide if you want to go down the ryegrass or non ryegrass route.
  • Decide if you want hay production or grazing.
  • If sowing a new ley then choose one between 12 and 14 kilos of seed per acre.
  • Then look to find one with right species in at a fair price.

 

We supply a wide range of mixes both with and without Ryegrass.

For every acre pack of our horse paddock mix that you buy we will send you free 1 by 25 grams of a special wild flower seed mix.

If you feel you would like more advice feel free to contact Tim Evans at  meadowmania@gmail.com

Or contact Garry Holter of Demeter Grassland Management at    dgmholter@btinternet.com

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