March 24, 2010

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 aims to make things a little easier. The program, which will run from April to October, is based in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences,  and works to help horse farms maximize pasture health and growth.

This year’s program also includes a small farm option, with a comprehensive analysis at a reduced price. The 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 suggestions for improvements during the upcoming year. 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 may be included in analysis if requested.

UK Forage Extension Specialist Ray Smith directs the program. He believes one of its main advantages is personal consultation with UK experts at the evaluation’s end.

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,” Smith 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.”

In the five years since its inception, the program has serviced more than 13,500 acres during 80 farm evaluations. One of the goals of this year’s program 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.

“The economy is causing horse producers large and small to determine what are essential inputs 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.”

The excessive rains in 2009 will also affect pasture management methods this year, he added. While the moisture counteracted the 2007 and 2008 droughts, it also made seeding on larger farms difficult.

Applications for the program are accepted throughout the year. For a farm registration form, e-mail Laura Schwer at Laura.Schwer@uky.edu .

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