Pasture Evaluation Program an Investment for Farms

As horse farm managers and owners face another year of tough economic times and high feeding costs, the University of Kentucky’s Horse Pasture Evaluation Program helps them stretch every dollar. The program, which will run from April to October, is based in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and helps managers maximize the health and growth of horse pastures.

The pasture evaluation includes a comprehensive soil map of the farm, a satellite image of the farm, grass species composition assessment, and a personal follow-up meeting with UK experts who will make suggestions for improvements. Personal consultation is one of the main advantages of the Horse Pasture Evaluation Program, according to program director Ray Smith, PhD. This year's program now includes a small farm option with a comprehensive analysis at a reduced price.

Additional options include tall fescue toxicity analysis, ergovaline measurements, and ascarid egg count. Although there are limits to the acreage that will be included in each package, an entire farm can be included in analysis if requested.

In the five years since its inception, the program has serviced more than 13,500 acres during 80 farm evaluations. One of this year's goals is to provide farm owners with information about pasture composition so they can improve their pastures and spend less on hay and concentrate throughout the year.

An understanding of pasture composition is one of the most valuable pieces of information to any horse farm manager, Smith said

"For broodmare operations, knowing the amount of tall fescue to determine the risk for fescue toxicity is crucial," he said. "(For other operations) it’s important to know the forage species that are present, how to best manage them for optimum production, and the percentages of weed and bare soil present to determine the need for overseeding."

"The economy is causing horse producers large and small to determine what inputs are essential to maintain the viability of their operation," Smith said. "By improving pasture production, you can reduce supplemental feed costs. In essence, the more they eat in the pasture, the less they need to eat in the barn."

According to Smith, the excessive rains in 2009 in the central Kentucky region also will affect the way pastures should be managed this year. While the rainfall helped make up for the 2007 and 2008 droughts, it also made seeding on larger farms difficult.

The program is available by appointment to all Kentucky horse farm owners. Applications are accepted throughout the year. For a farm registration form, e-mail Laura Schwer at

Natalie Voss is a UK equine communications intern and undergraduate majoring in communications.

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