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Paddock Makeover: refurbish or start afresh?

Posted on Thursday, March 12, 2015 by Heather Dodd

hay crop

If you plan to take a hay crop from your field, it’s important to prepare the paddock accordingly

After a winter of wear and tear, it’s more than likely that your horse paddocks are in desperate need of renovation, before a spring and summer of constant use. Gateways and fence-lines, where there was once grass, are now likely to be a mere muddy mess – so how do you go about getting your paddocks back in tip-top condition? Depending on whether you keep your horses out over winter, there are a couple of options available for getting your paddock back on form.

The first option is to improve your existing paddock grass. It’s a fairly straight forward process – the first step is to chain harrow the field. Harrows can be towed behind a tractor, quad, or even a 4×4, and they’ll gently remove any dead grass, as well as opening up the soil, allowing air in. This alone helps encourage new grass growth, but there are further steps you can take. You might consider a paddock overseed too. This is the process where you sow grass seed into the existing pasture, without the need to plough up and start again (we’ll look more closely at types of seed and rates later). This should be done after chain harrowing, and the seed doesn’t need to be drilled, but can be ‘broadcast’ over the top. Broadcasting is spreading seed over the pasture, and can be done with a fertiliser spinner or similar, and again, done using a small tractor, quad, 4×4 (or even by hand if the area is small enough!). After harrowing (and potentially seeding), you should roll the pasture, carefully and slowly. There are two common types of trailed rollers you can use, either the Cambridge roller, or a flat roller – if you don’t have one yourself, almost every farmer will, and given the right bribe there’s a good chance you can borrow one for the afternoon. If you choose to seed the area, then it’s best to keep the horses off for 6-8 weeks where possible.

The second, more drastic, expensive, and time consuming option, is to plough up the pasture and start afresh. There are many advantages to doing this though, such as weed control, and the opportunity to grade the soil, removing any lumps and bumps. The process here requires firstly cultivation of the existing paddock. Some may choose to kill off existing grasses and weeds first, before ploughing, or rotavating. It’s important to achieve a very clean seed bed prior to planting your new pasture, so it can be advantageous to leave the seedbed dormant for a while before sowing the new seed, allowing any weed seeds to germinate and be controlled. When you’re ready to sow, work a good seedbed, creating a nice level, fine tilth. Broadcast (as described above), the new seed, and roll in. You’ll need to keep all stock off the new pasture for around 12 months as the new plants get established.

There’s a number of different seed products available for either method of paddock regeneration. Firstly, the application rates will vary. For overseeding an existing pasture, a rate of 10kg/acre (25kg/hectare) is suggested. Seeding from scratch demands a higher sowing rate, usually about 14kg/acre (35kg/hectare). It’s important to get these rates right, so you don’t have a crop that’s too thin. In terms of the actual seeds used, there’s a number of different seed mixtures, which can take some understanding. The cheapest mixtures are generally ryegrass based blends – ryegrass is a fast growing species, but it’s not always recommended, especially for ponies (and more so for the laminitics). The next type of mixtures tend to be a mixture of ryegrass, fescues and meadowgrass. These are middle of the range style mixtures both in terms of cost and quality, but do provide better quality grazing than a sole rygrass blend. Typically found towards the top of the price pyramid are all fescue and meadowgrass based mixtures, which are generally the best grass only mixtures available. There are also variants of this type of mixture that contain herbs to further enhance the quality of the pasture (these mixtures also make great hay crops).

If you plan to take a hay crop from your field, it’s important to prepare the paddock accordingly. Ideally, you’ll want a high yielding species like Ryegrass to make up the bulk of your crop, particularly for haylage. Species like Italian Ryegrass (which will only last two years), make a hard horse hay. If quality takes priority over yield, and you want to make a finer hay, then steer clear of Ryegrass based mixes, and instead use a blend like the fescue meadowgrass blend described in the above paragraph. Short term ryegrass hay mixtures should produce two decent cuts a year, whereas a fescue/meadowgrass mixture will most likely just produce the one. It goes without saying that a paddock should not be grazed in the spring if your intention is to take a hay crop.

Hopefully this article has provided an insight into basic paddock regeneration. Grass Seeds UK supply a number of mixtures for horse pastures. You can talk to a specialist on 01608 637111, or email [email protected].

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