Kentucky is known for its beautiful rolling green pastures filled with broodmares and their young, but there can be an ugly side to this picture: the half acre turnout paddock next to every barn. You know the one—new mares and foals, mares close to foaling, or horses on layup are turned out here every day.
Almost every farm has at least one of these paddocks, sometimes many. High-traffic paddocks are essential to the constant care of some horses. However, they become eye sores and provide little, if any, grazing for the horses. Luckily, there are a few ways to help these paddocks gain some type of cover.
Ryegrasses, both perennial and annual, are vigorous grasses that establish quickly and have the best chance of establishment in high-traffic paddocks. Annual ryegrass will not survive the summer in Kentucky and must be seeded once or twice a year to provide some cover. Perennial ryegrass will typically survive two years in Kentucky and surrounding states and might not need to be seeded as often, depending on grazing pressure. Perennial ryegrass can be infected with an endophyte similar to that in tall fescue, so be sure to purchase endophyte-free seed. Perennial ryegrass is frequently added to a cool-season pasture mix; however, because it is so vigorous, it should not comprise more than 20% of the mixture. Unless sufficient rest can be given to high-traffic paddocks, seeding a mixture is unlikely to be more productive over a pure ryegrass seeding.
Ideal seeding dates for Central Kentucky are Sept. 1-15 or March 1-15. For the best chance of success, use a no-till drill or a light tillage, seeding, then dragging or rolling to get the seed into the ground. Place cool-season grass seed ¼ inch deep into firm soil. For small areas such as around gates and feeders, mulching with straw or irrigating the area can further help new seedlings establish. Any rest that can be given to the newly seeded pasture will help, and the more the better. For ryegrasses rest the paddock for six to eight weeks, and for cool-season pasture mixtures rest for four to six months.
“Make sure to remember to soil test and apply appropriate fertilizer with all pastures,” said Ray Smith, PhD, a forage specialist at the University of Kentucky. "Normally, we recommend applying nitrogen only in the fall to cool season grass pastures, but with heavily grazed pastures, applying nitrogen at low levels (30 to 50 lbs/acre) in March, May, September, and late October will help stimulate grass regrowth.”
Some high-traffic paddocks have no hope of gaining cover even when seeded regularly with ryegrasses. This might be due to extremely high traffic, poor soil quality, or steep slope of the land. For these areas, a high-traffic area pad or drylot might be the best option to provide safe footing for horses and people as well as to reduce erosion.
For more information, see "Establishing Horse Pastures (ID-147)," "High Traffic Area Pads for Horses (ID-164)," and "Using Dry Lots to Conserve Pastures and Reduce Pollution Potential" at www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage/HorseLinks.htm.
Krista Cotten, an MS candidate and assistant coordinator of the University of Kentucky's Horse Pasture Evaluation Program, provided this information.
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Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.