Ensuring that your paddock is well maintained through the year is of the utmost importance. It will provide your horses and livestock with a nutrient-rich paddock to graze on, promoting good health throughout the years, as well as giving them a secure environment to live in.
If a paddock is left to its own devices and isn’t correctly managed, then it may lead to increased weed growth, poor grazing conditions for horses and leave them vulnerable to various health complications and diseases, including liver failure if weeds are ingested.
Below are the key areas that you should consider when maintaining your paddock.
Paddock maintenance isn’t a job which can be completed once a year, as it is an ongoing process that needs to be followed all year-round to keep your paddock healthy and well-maintained whatever the season.
As with anything, prevention is better than cure, so it’s far better to ensure that you have a schedule in place to guide you, rather than a haphazard approach. Of course, you may find that you unexpectedly need to carry out maintenance from time to time – if this is the case, then be proactive and complete the work immediately, as leaving it could allow the problems to worsen.
Harrowing and Rolling
After winter has passed, and spring has arrived, harrowing should be carried out once grazing has passed and before any fertiliser is applied. The process helps to remove any dead grass, weeds and bugs such as worm eggs which may be lurking in the ground. This allows fresh growth to develop and encourages new roots to grow which is essential for a healthy paddock.
By allowing air and sunlight to reach the roots, the soil is able to breathe and water infiltration is also improved. Any bacteria or fungi should soon be reduced after the paddock has been harrowed, as the sunlight improves the overall ground health.
After the ground has been harrowed, you should roll the ground to ensure that it is level and allow grass to become established. This also reduces the likelihood of water collecting in hollows. Take care to carry out this process when the ground is firm so that compaction does not occur – something that will restrict grass growth.
Reseeding should be carried out in between March to September, as at this time there is likely to be a good amount of moisture in the soil, allowing seeding to have a greater effect. Reseeding improves damaged paddocks, grass quality and overall paddock health.
Before reseeding, professional advice should be sought, as grasses will require a different variety of seeds depending on their type.
Ryegrass is one of the most widely used seed bases as it produces seed relatively easily. The most suitable grass seed for horses and other livestock is a mix of grass and clover, as it provides a good nutrient balance to grazing animals.
In late winter, every two to four years, you should test the soil pH and nutrient levels in your paddock, as this determines the quality of the graze that you are providing your livestock with. A good quality soil will improve the grass quality, ensuring that energy, protein and other nutrients are being maintained, therefore a sample will determine if this is the case and that you have the correct soil structure and composition in place.
When taking a sample, you should get one from around six inches below the surface, with samples taken from across the paddock so that you have a good overview of the quality in your field. These should then be mixed together and sent for testing. Samples should be taken where the ground is free from horse droppings and urine, as this could affect the result, as well as areas such as near the gate or water trough. Once you have your results, you will be able to see which areas you are lacking in, and how your paddock can be improved.
Horse pastures should aim to have a pH level of between 5 and 6.5, and be rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to provide a good balance of nutrients to the land.
To ensure that you are providing nutrient-rich grass for your horses, the fertiliser you apply can help to maintain a healthy paddock. It’s essential that you apply the correct fertiliser for your paddock, as this could cause harm to your horses and land in some cases.
In the UK, for example, there are three types of grass, which each require different fertiliser due to their difference in varying characteristics. Therefore, specialist help should be sought so that you can identify which fertiliser you should apply.
Fertiliser should be applied after a soil test has been carried out, and a slow-release fertiliser used where possible as this will provide a sustained level of nutrients over an increased period – allowing your paddock to benefit for longer.
Spraying and Topping
Weeds can be extremely harmful to both your land and livestock, and spraying is one of the most effective ways to manage weed growth. Spraying herbicides may not need to be carried out each year, however, when weeds do emerge they should be sprayed so that growth does not become uncontrollable. Spraying should be carried out by a qualified PA1, PA2 and PA6 professional, when young weeds are actively growing.
There is much debate as to which should be carried out first between spraying and topping, however, if you are unable to see if you have any weed growth then you should top your paddock before spraying it. A flail mower is the best way to top a paddock, as it does not cut the grass, and instead mulches it, providing the soil with nutrients to replenish from.
If weeds have turned to seed or are present, then you should spray your paddock before topping. Take care to ensure that you leave time to allow the herbicide to penetrate the root structure, before topping to avoid removing your herbicide.