CORVALLIS - Autumn brings rain. And rain brings mud, especially if you have horses on small acreage. With horses on one to 10 acres, rain and mud can mean an unhealthy mess for your horses and your pasture.
And muddy pastures pollute streams, groundwater and household wells.
"Living in mud and manure is unhealthy for a horse," explained Garry Stephenson, small farms faculty member with the Oregon State University Extension Service. "Mud harbors bacteria and fungal organisms that cause health problems."
Wet, muddy conditions can foster organisms that cause mud fever (scratches), cracking of the hoof and sole and related lameness. Insects breed in mud and manure. With careful management, it is possible to keep a good grass cover through the winter, keep your weeds down and keep water clean and your horses healthy, said Stephenson.
"Managing Small-acreage Horse Farms," a new publication from the OSU Extension Service, spells out how to keep your small acreage horse pastures healthy, and at the same time protect horse health and water quality.
Stephenson, lead author of the publication, gives the following tips for getting through the rainy season with horses on small acreage.
Keep animals off wet pastures. Animals on wet pastures create mud and compact the soil. They overgraze and trample grass. The result is less vegetation to filter sediments and use up nutrients from manure.
Create a "sacrifice area," a separate paddock to keep animals off wet pastures. This restricts impacts to one area and saves pastures during wet months. Paddocks can be prepared with "hog fuel" wood shavings or chips or gravel.
Install rain gutters and downspouts on farm buildings to direct water away from paddocks.
Utilize grass or vegetation "buffer strips" around your sacrifice area.
Don't overgraze or overstock your area. Rotate grazing to prevent overgrazing and allow pastures to rest. In western Oregon or Washington, a mare and a foal require about two acres for grazing use. A minimum of one acre per hose is required to cycle nutrients from manure and urine and to provide adequate space for exercise. The amount varies based on the amount and frequency of rain and how much the horse gets supplemental fed and exercised elsewhere.
Cover your manure piles with a tarp or roof to prevent rain from leaching away nutrients and microorganisms into water. Or better yet, compost your manure.
"Managing Small-acreage Horse Farms," EC 1558, provides 24 pages of "how-to" practical information to help horse owners keep their horses, pastures and water quality healthy. It is available by mail for $4 per copy plus $3 shipping and handling. Send your request along with a check or money order payable to OSU to: Publication Orders, Extension and Station Communications, 422 Kerr Administration, Corvallis, OR 97331-2119.
To preview a copy on the web go to: http://eesc.oregonstate.edu. Select "Publications and Videos," then "Agriculture," then "Horses."