Rotating your horse’s grazing is good stable management and will provide more feed for your horses in the long run. But how long should you rest your paddocks? Here we discuss everything about rotational grazing and how long to rest a horse paddock to help you get the best grazing out of your paddocks.
Typically, horses should not be grazing in a paddock for more than seven days at a time, and paddock forage should not have been grazed lower than 3 inches. Re-growth takes around seven days to recover after grazing and 3 to 4 weeks to be regrown to 6 to 8 inches when it is ready for grazing again.
Good paddock and pasture management means healthier and better grazing for your horses, reducing your hay costs in the end. Maintaining and keeping your horse’s paddock grazing pasture healthy, it is essential to rest it. Just how long do you need to rest it? In this article, we help you figure it out.
Why You Should Rest Horse Paddocks
Most horse owners know that if you don’t’ have a good paddock maintenance program, your horses will degrade the pastures quickly.
Typically, horses are not designed to be living in fenced-in paddocks but in large natural open spaces. Horses are browsers that naturally move around 5 km a day while grazing and generally don’t return to the same grazed area within a short time, giving grass time to recover naturally.
Paddock grazing can deteriorate quickly when horses are left in the paddock for extended periods. When horses graze, move around the same space 24 hours a day, and leave manure behind, it explains why paddock pasture can be degraded and destroyed quickly.
Horses will not graze in areas soiled with manure. They will eat a pasture right down to the bare ground if left. This will result in some areas of the paddock being overgrazed while other soiled areas are left alone.
This leads to a paddock with very short grass that can turn into the bare ground if it is not rested and cleaned up. That paddock has lost its nutritional value, and it will cost you extra money to buy hay for your horses when your paddock cannot feed them anymore.
When it rains, that bare patches of ground in the paddock will quickly turn into a muddy mess that will further deteriorate and slow down pasture growth in your paddock.
Rotating your horses to different paddocks after a grazing period and allowing a paddock to rest for three to four weeks gives that paddock time to repair and regrow.
While a paddock is resting, it also allows you to carry out paddock maintenance, like harrowing, topping off the rough patches, fertilizing, and getting rid of weeds.
Now that we have established that it is essential to rest your horse paddocks. Let’s look at how to do it correctly.
Rotational Paddock Grazing and Management
Rotational grazing is when you move your horses between multiple paddocks regularly. The pasture is grazed for seven days to a week depending on the size and number of horses and then rested for 3 to 4 weeks to allow it to rejuvenate and regrow.
The most important part of the rotational grazing system is letting the paddock’s grass rest and recover while the horses are grazing in the other paddocks. Horse paddocks are left empty for up to 4 weeks at a time to rest.
Every horse owner will know the right rotation program for their paddocks depending on the size and number of horses in their paddocks.
Typically, horses should not be grazing in a paddock for more than seven days because that is usually how long grass takes to regrow to the 6 or 8 inches that are the perfect height for grazing.
It is vital to start planning and managing your horse’s grazing needs once your paddock pastures start to grow in spring. Most horse owners want to keep their horses out at paddock grazing naturally because that is the healthiest way for horses to forage. However, maintaining your paddocks with healthy nutritional grazing all year is a challenge.
How you manage your horse’s paddock pastures depends on the soil type, climate, size of the paddock, number of horses, which are all factors you must consider. However, good paddock management can be applied to any pasture, a two-acre paddock, or a hundred-hectare horse farm.
You will get more nutritional grazing out of your paddocks and save money if you manage and rotate your horses regularly with rotational grazing.
It is vital not to wait until your paddock starts to look patchy before you do anything. The best way to maintain your paddocks is to stick to a rotational paddock management program. This will provide nutritional grazing for your horses year-round.
Paddock Pasture Rotation and Rest Program
The best rotation program consists of a minimum of four-horse paddocks connected by gates to a dry lot, also called a sacrifice lot, that has a shelter, water, and feeding station. This is to centralize watering and feeding so that all the paddocks do not have to have their own feeding stations making management easy.
The size of every paddock depends on the number of horses and how often the horse owner wants to rotate the horses.
To use this rotational grazing system, you start by finding the horse paddock ready for grazing.
There should be at least 6 to 8 inches high grazing available. You open the gate to the paddock that is ready for grazing and close all other paddock gates.
Your horses will graze in that paddock until 50% of the forage, around 3 to 4 inches of forage, is left.
This grazing system is known as the take half, leave half system. The time spent grazing in that paddock should not be longer than seven days, and there should be 3 inches of grazing left. That paddock will then rest for 3 to 4 weeks.
You then remove your horses from that grazed paddock, open the gate to paddock number two, and let the horses in. Close the gates to all other paddocks except the sacrifice paddock/ lot where the feeding and shelter station is located.
Continue using this rotational grazing system until all the paddocks have been grazed. This will maintain good nutritional grazing for your horses, and it will give your paddocks adequate time to rest and recover.
Depending on the climate and rainfall in the area you live in, your paddocks might take a bit longer to recover. The best is to figure it out as you go along and rotate your horses. You can evaluate how fast the paddocks recover as you rotate.
It is better to keep an eye on the pasture re-growth and then decide when to graze and rotate your horses based on grass’s height and not necessarily have to keep to a strict program.
When none of the paddocks recovered by the time all of them have been grazed, then you should keep your horses in the dry sacrifice lot and feed them hay and grain until a paddock has recovered its pasture. Always remember to gradually reacclimatize your horses back to the pasture to avoid laminitis and colic.
When a paddock is resting for a few weeks, it is the perfect time to take care of routine pasture management. You can freely apply fertilizer immediately after you move your horses out of that paddock.
Knowing it will be a few weeks before any horse will graze in that paddock again gives it enough time to become completely safe for your horses.
This resting time also allows for regular mowing to maintain a uniformed height, so all the pasture recovers at the same height.
What is a Dry Paddock or Sacrifice Lot?
A dry lot/paddock or sacrifice area is a paddock connected to the grazing paddocks by a gate and is used for feeding and watering the horses when they are not grazing. The sacrifice paddock must be located on dry, well-drained ground with no mud and strong footing.
Supplemental grain and hay are fed undercover in a sacrifice paddock, and it should have a shelter and watering system. A sacrifice paddock is open to the grazing paddock where the horses are grazing and used for water and supplemental feeds.
The shelter in the sacrifice paddock should have open access for the horses and adequate space to accommodate the number of horses in the paddock.
Number of Horses Per Acre
The most common question asked is how many horses can I keep on an acre? The total number of acres perfect per horse is generally 2 acres for each 1,000-pound horse. We use this ratio if the pastured paddocks are expected to provide most of the horse’s nutrition during the growing season.
A resting time for your horse paddock is always essential to protect the grass to regrow and recover. If a paddock is overgrazed, the grass won’t regrow again later.
Common Issues with Rotational Paddock Management
When you notice that it has been seven days of grazing and your horses have not grazed the forage completely yet, your paddocks are too big. If your paddocks are separated with electric fencing, move the fence lines to make the paddocks smaller or add another horse to increase the grazing rate.
When your horses are not grazing the paddock uniformly, the paddock ends up with tall grass and other areas with short grass. How do you know when to rotate? This grazing behavior is normal for horses; add another horse to help with the grazing.
Check your pasture to estimate the average height of the pasture and cut the grass after you move your horses out of the paddock. Wait until the shorter grass areas have grown to the 6-inch grazing height before letting the horses in to graze. Your paddocks might be too big if this happens.
Some horse owners don’t want to abruptly change their horse’s diet and confine them to the dry sacrifice feeding paddock when the paddocks are resting. So, they keep a summer paddock ready for this purpose. This summer, paddock grass will grow tall if left, so it might be necessary to cut it a few times to maintain height. You could cut the hay in this paddock and store it for the dry season if you have haymaking equipment.
When you have only one acre of pasture and don’t have room for four paddocks, you can split the one-acre paddock in half and rotate between the two halves.
If you have horses that don’t get along, you can simultaneously create more than one rotational grazing system. You can divide half the pasture paddock into a paddock for the geldings and use the other half for the mares. Multiple rotational systems are the answer to horses that don’t get along. You are not limited to only one system. Use as many as you need.
If your barn is not located near your paddocks and you can’t set up a dry sacrifice paddock nearby, there are several possibilities to design a rotational grazing system. Keep the dry sacrifice paddock near the barn and use lanes to access the paddocks out of range. Some horse owners don’t use a fully connected paddock system; instead, they graze paddocks individually.
Resting and managing your horse paddocks is not difficult. It is easy to set up a rotational grazing system for your horses. A rotational grazing management system is used by many horse owners globally.
It doesn’t matter how your paddocks are laid out or set up. If you follow the tips we included in this article about resting and rotating your horse paddocks; your horses will always have good nutritional pastures for year-round grazing.
Resting your horse paddocks for 3 to 4 weeks after seven days of grazing will give them the best time to recover and regrow to the ideal 6 to 8 inches optimum grazing length. Rotational grazing is an effective way to manage and care for your pastured paddocks.
Having an easy-to-care-for rotational grazing system with adequate paddock resting times is central to good horse care. This system is perfect for keeping your horse in optimum health with great nutrition year-round. We hope you found this article informative and that it will help you manage and rest your horse paddocks better.