UK’s Horse Pasture Evaluation Program helps horse farms optimize pastures

Optimal use of horse pastures has always been important. As news of the high price and limited supply of hay continues to worry horse farmers, the health of horse pastures becomes ever more critical.

Consulting with forage experts might be one of the best investments a horse farm can make. That’s where the University of Kentucky’s Horse Pasture Evaluation Program comes in.

The program, now in its fourth year, has begun accepting applications from central Kentucky horse farms interested in a professional evaluation and detailed recommendations for their pastures. The program runs through October.

Since its inception in 2005, UK’s Horse Pasture Evaluation Program, housed in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has worked with approximately 50 area horse farms and analyzed more than 3,700 acres of horse pastures. Pasture evaluation is provided by Ray Smith, UK forage extension specialist, and Tom Keene, UK hay specialist and their team of forage experts.

“The UK forage extension team has been extremely pleased with the success of the Horse Pasture Evaluation Program,” said Smith. “We have thoroughly enjoyed working with the farms that enrolled in the program in past years and have been very impressed with the professional animal care and handling that we have observed on all farms.”

The assessment provided by the program includes soil type and soil productivity, types and ratios of grasses and weeds present in each pasture, an estimation of forage available, and a laboratory evaluation of endophyte, a fungus commonly found in tall fescue, and associated levels of ergovaline, a compound toxic to pregnant mares.

Enhancements for this year include increased acreage (up to an entire farm if requested), opportunity to enroll in a pilot study on fecal egg counts in pastures and follow-up measurements of ergovaline throughout the year.

“We’re also now working with local veterinarians to address parasite issues on local farms,” said Keene.

Findings are presented to each farm in a customized and detailed report. That report includes a satellite photograph of the farm; explanation of soil type and recommended horse numbers per acre; overall percentage of all grasses found; information about how to interpret percent of endophyte and ergovaline levels; general guidelines for tall fescue removal, weed control and soil fertility; and information on grazing management, renovating pastures, re-establishing grasses and grass-legume pastures. The final report also contains more than 20 publications related to managing horses on pastures.

Participation in the program is on a first-come, first-served basis, and the cost is $750 for up to six paddocks or 80 acres.

New this year, said Keene, is discounted pricing available to smaller farms with 20 acres or less. The program is available to horse farms in Fayette, Bourbon, Woodford, Scott, Jessamine and Clark counties, but can be opened to counties outside those perimeters on a limited basis.

Keene urged farms to enroll, explaining that farms who participate help the university gather important and significant data that ultimately helps researchers learn more about fescue toxicosis.

Farms interested in enrolling in this year’s program should contact, Keene at 859-257-3144 or Smith at 859-257-3358, raysmith1@uky.edu. The team will then make an initial visit to participating farms to explain program details. More information can also be found by visiting www.uky.edu/ag/forage.

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