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Grasses & Forage Crops For Horses

Equine Grazing Recommendations

Horse Pastures perform best when they are either all grasses or a mixture of grasses and clovers.  Read about feeding horses clover and remember that a pasture should never be >35% clover.

1) First Step: The only way to produce high forage yields is to know the condition of your soil. The first step should be to obtain a soil test so as to determine the fertilization needs and pH of the soil. Your extension agent can assist with obtaining a soil test. Test in sections of no more than 10 acres for best results. Retest every one to three years. After testing you can determine the fertilizers and limes needed to provide for highest yields. pH is VERY important in maintaining good forage production. When pH of the soil becomes acidic, the grasses can NOT utilize the nutrients provided by fertilizers. Apply N-P-K based on your soil analysis test results.

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2) Second Step: The second step is to determine the best grass / legume and/or forages to plant to provide grazing for your horses. Keep in mind that you must manage grazing for most efficient use. Horses are notorious for being a grazing machine and can over-graze a field if not properly managed by limiting access. Also to best maintain the optimum health of your equine animals you should provide supplemental feed. -- Listed at the bottom of this page are various grasses, legumes and forages for equine use.

Forages & Grass For Pastures Charts

Grass /Forage Cultivar Type

Color Code

Warm Season Perennial  
Warm Season Annual  
Cool Season Perennial  
Cool Season Annual  
Cool Season Perennial Legumes  
Cool Season Annual Legumes  

Note: Cool Season grasses tend to be annual only in warmer Southern USA areas providing forage to around May-June of each year. -- Warm Season grasses also may perform as annuals in cooler Northern USA areas, with possible permanent winter-kill of grass from cold temps.

Tolerance to Site Conditions: 1=Poor 2=Fair 3=Good 4=Excellent

Common Name

Soil
Acidity
Poor
Drainage
Drought Grazing
Bahiagrass 4 3 4 4
BermudaGrass
Cheyenne & Ranchero
4 1 4 4
Dallisgrass 2 4 3 3
Pennleaf  Pearl Millet 4 1 4 2
Browntop Millet 4 1 4 2
Kentucky Bluegrass 2 2 1 4
Orchardgrass 2 2 2 2
MaxQ Fescue 3 3 3 4
Timothy 2 2 2 2
Passerel Plus Ryegrass 3 4 2 4
Annual Ryegrass 3 3 2 3
Oats 2 2 2 3
Wintergrazer 70 Rye 4 2 2 3
Supergrazer (Rye & Ryegrass) 4 2 2 3
Wheat 1 1 2 3
Alfalfa 1 1 4 1
Red Clover 2 2 2 3
White Clover 2 3 2 4
Arrowleaf Clover 2 1 3 3
Crimson Clover 3 1 2 4
Hairy Vetch 3 1 2 2
Rose Clover 3 1 3 3

Cool Season Perennials Pasture Grasses

MaxQ, Kentucky Bluegrass and Orchard grass are used for permanent cool season horse pastures. Clovers can be included in these pastures for a companion species. Various mixtures are also available to provide a balanced selection of cultivars. These pasture seed blends are grass seed which provide excellent blended varieties that grow well in various cool season geographical areas. MaxQ makes an excellent Tall Fescue pasture and is safe for pregnant mares. Testing at the Mississippi State University on pastures planted ONLY with MaxQ Tall Fescue Seed has shown NO symptoms of fescue toxicities. Low or Endophyte-free fescue is also recommended for equine use.

Cool Season Annual Pasture Grasses

Small grains and/or ryegrass or winter annual grass and legume mixtures make superb horse pastures. Passerel Plus Ryegrass, Gulf Annual Ryegrass are highly productive in late spring and early summer.  Extremely nutritious and palatable.  Rye Grains such as Wintergrazer 70 Rye and the new SuperGrazer blend of Rye and Ryegrass are good choices.  Cereal grains (Rye, Wheat) are the most tolerant of soil acidity and cold temperatures.

Warm Season Perennial Pasture Grasses

Warm season perennials are mainly used in Southern regions of the USA.  Bermudagrass, Bahiagrass and Dallisgrass are the best choices.  Newer improved seeded Bermudas include the Cheyenne Bermuda cultivar and the Ranchero Frio Blend (Both forage & Hay Production).  Bermuda makes a SAFE, easily established and excellent pasture for horses. Both Pensacola Bahia and improved Tifton 9 Bahia are used for Bahiagrass equine pastures.

Warm Season Annual Pasture Grass

Warm season annuals are often used for horses in the lower South. These species can also be overseeded with cool season annuals to provide more forage year-round. Annual Ryegrasses (such as Passerel Plus or Gulf Annual) are used to overseed existing Perennial pastures for extended grazing with planting in the fall for use through late spring.

Annuals suitable for equine use Pennleaf Pearl Millet is very productive... but may not be palatable when first planted. Millets are excellent emergency forage. Browntop Millet is good but very short lived (less than 90 days). Crab grasses such as the Red River Crabgrass and Quick-N-Big Crabgrass varieties make for high quality pasture and highly palatable forages.

GRASSES TO AVOID FOR HORSES

DO NOT PLANT:
Sorghum, Sudangrass, Johnsongrass, Sorghum-Sudangrass hybrids all should NOT be used for horses. Horses can develop paralysis and urinary disorders from grazing these species. Hay from these species is NOT considered safe for feeding. Kentucky 31 fescue or any variety that contains toxic endophytes should NOT be used as pasturage for pregnant mares. There are safe varieties of Fescue for use - see above.

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