UK Program Offers Pasture Evaluation to Central Kentucky Horse Farms

Central Kentucky horse farms interested in assistance from the University of Kentucky (UK) in evaluating their pastures now have access to a new program from the College of Agriculture's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

The Horse Pasture Evaluation Program, which started as a pilot program last fall, provides area horse farms an evaluation that includes assessment of the types of grasses and weeds present in each pasture, the ratio of each, an estimation of forage (food) available, and evaluation of pastures for percent of tall fescue and the potential of fescue stands to cause fescue toxicity in pregnant broodmares. Findings are then presented in a detailed report to each individual farm.

"The pasture management program is designed to meet the specific pasture needs for horse farms," said UK College of Agriculture Dean Scott Smith. "The college has long served forage needs for beef cattle, so we are pleased to be able to begin tailoring a program for horses. We are heartened that the pilot program was very well-received, and we look forward to expanding those services in the upcoming years."

"The equine industry sorely needs the monitoring and consultation being provided with this service," said Steve Johnson, former Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club president and current president of Margaux Farm. "It's very gratifying to know that UK is addressing the issues that are important on horse farms in Central Kentucky." Johnson was one of the participants in the program's pilot phase.

This year's program, which runs now through October, will provide pasture evaluation and a customized findings report to 25 horse farms in Fayette, Bourbon, Woodford, Scott, Jessamine, and Clark Counties. Participation is on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost is $600.

The team providing pasture evaluation includes Ray Smith, UK forage extension specialist, and Tom Keene, UK hay specialist.

Pasture evaluation will consist of an assessment of pasture species composition, including tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, orchard grass, white clover, and weeds (with each species identified); an estimation of forage available at sampling date; tall fescue plant percentage infected with a fungal endophyte (fungus that grows inside of tall fescue plants), concentration of tall fescue ergovaline (toxin produce by the fescue fungal endophyte that causes problems for late-term mares and cattle); and an estimate of ergovaline present in total available forage. Other evaluations and analyses might be available upon request.

The fescue analysis has been of particular interest to area horse farms. "Tall fescue has been a concern in Central Kentucky horse pastures for more than 20 years now," explained Keene. "This program can now help farm managers and owners make more informed pasture management decisions with regard to their broodmare programs. It is our hope that farms will take advantage of this program, not only to help in management decisions, but to also work alongside the University to make Central Kentucky the best environment to raise Thoroughbred horses."

At the conclusion of the program, a detailed report will be presented to each individual farm. That report includes the following information: Satellite photo of the farm with an acreage estimate of each field; U.S. Department of Agriculture soil maps with complete soil information, including the soil type present on each area of the farm, major soil limitations, pasture production potential, and animal carrying capacity; detailed information on where specific samples were taken in each field; a summary of pasture composition and tall fescue lab analysis; detailed pasture composition per field and per sample; photographs of individual pasture areas sampled; pasture and paddock "action log" for each field; recommendations on management of pastures, including general weed control, soil fertility, grazing management, renovation options, reestablishment options, grass species, and variety choices based on UK recommendations, general guidelines for tall fescue management in horse pastures, interpretation of ergovaline levels, and options for removal of tall fescue; CD containing all data, photographs, analysis and electronic version of the pasture and paddock action log for farm recordkeeping; set of UK extension publications related to horse pastures, as well as selected national and international publications about horse pastures.

Farms interested in enrolling in this year's program should contact Keene at 859/257-3144,, or Smith at 859/257-3358, The team will then make an initial visit to the participating farm to explain program details. The assessment includes a sample of up to five paddocks per farm and a maximum acreage of 75 total acres per farm. More information can also be found by visiting

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