Last Year's Drought on This Year's Pasture?

Throughout Kentucky, the summer of 1999 will be remembered for hot days and a lack of rain. While the drought and its effects were readily noted this past summer and fall, horse owners need to consider what the drought may have done to their pastures for the upcoming grazing season.

With some fall moisture that hopefully will rejuvenate some of the pasture grasses, horse owners by early January should have a clear picture of what their pastures look like and what forage will be available for the upcoming grazing season.

What many horse owners will see is their pastures are not as bad as anticipated. However there will be areas in the pasture where the forage stand has been thinned by the dry conditions and other areas where the grass has died due to the dry conditions or overgrazing and needs to be reseeded.

For those areas where the grass is thinner, rejuvenation of the stand can be done by fertilizing the pasture. An application of nitrogen in late March is recommended for pastures which were not fertilized in the fall. Owners and managers should contact their county Extension agent for a recommendation regarding the application rate for their area and also consider a soil test to get an idea on the fertility requirements of their pastures.

Where large areas of grass have died due to drought or overgrazing, it will be necessary to reseed and establish new forage stands. The re-establishment of grasses or legumes will require seeding the grass seed directly into those areas of the pasture where the grass has died. This should be done in late March to early April and requires the use of a sod seeding grass seeder.

Because of the extensive drought across the state last summer, no-till seeders are in demand and it may be difficult to book one if left to the last minute.

Pastures under reconstruction will not be available for grazing for some time. If pastures are re-seeded, expect a 60 - 90 day waiting period before the pasture will be ready for light grazing. If the application of fertilizer is all the pastures need, it should be possible to graze the pasture in about one month. In either case, these suggested times will be affected by the spring growing conditions, particularly rainfall.

While waiting for the pasture to grow, it will be necessary to provide an alternative area for grazing horses. Otherwise, all the preparation will have been wasted.

It is important to get advice from the county Extension agent regarding the most suitable grasses to use in the pasture, and what rate of fertilizer should be applied. Local conditions can have a great effect on how successful pasture renovation will be.

The drought of 1999 was severe with extreme conditions not seen in more than 100 years. However, with good management and some rain, pastures should be available for horses in 2000.

--From Equine Disease Quarterly, Funded by Underwriters at Lloyd's of London, Brokers and Their Kentucky Agents

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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