The practice of cross grazing has been utilized for centuries. What started off as a simple matter of farmers getting the most out of their available farmland, has now become commonplace, with many distinct benefits.
The Importance of Pasture Management
A well managed pasture means more than just good looking fields. A pasture that is well managed is more productive and can be provide more nutrition for your horse and other farm animals. The key to having the healthiest, most productive pasture is to regularly practice proper management methods. In order to do this efficiently, there are three main issues to focus on: grazing control, weed management, and manure management.
Weed and manure management are issues that most people deal with already. Weeds are typically controlled by chemicals, organically, or by allowing certain animals to munch on them. Manure should not be allowed to accumulate in large amounts, and should be spread out in order to naturally fertilize the pasture.
Grazing control is a bit more involved, and this is where crossing grazing can be utilized. In order to have an ideal pasture, you should begin by choosing a seed mix that will work well for your area, for your rainfall distribution, soil pH, soil composition, and soil nutrient levels. Once you have chosen the right type of mix, you will want to ensure all horse pastures maintain an even ground cover, of between five centimeters and twelve centimeters. Keeping an even ground level can prevent your horses from becoming sick by eliminating areas of soil erosion, compaction or mineral imbalances from closely cropped areas and roughs.
One of the best ways to keep even ground cover and to keep your horses healthy is implement a grazing rotation program. A grazing rotation simply means that grazing is allowed in a certain area, followed by a rest period. The length of your rest period is typically equal to the growth rate of the pasture. For example, if it takes six weeks for your pasture to grow and thicken, you should allow approximately two weeks of grazing followed by a six week period of rest. This simple trick can drastically reduce the chances of your horse becoming sick.
Another variation of rotational grazing is strip grazing. Strip grazing keeps animals from selectively grazing on areas they prefer by only making one area available at a time.
Cross grazing factors in to either of the above methods quite easily. Crossing grazing, or mixing grazing, combines different breeds of animals, such as sheep, goats, alpaca, cattle, or donkeys with horses. This can be extremely beneficial for the pasture as soil nutrient levels rise from the various types of manure being deposited. Different animals eat at different rates, and prefer different varieties of grass and weeds. This helps to keep a very well balanced pasture.
Crossing Grazing Safety Issues
While crossing grazing is quite well practiced and can be extremely beneficial, there are a few basic safety issues you should be aware of. For example, if you are going to be combining cattle with horses, make sure you move the cattle out of or into the pasture area separately from the horses. Large animals, such as beef cattle, can be quite active and because of their size could inadvertently injure a horse.
Many people who are considering crossing grazing worry a bit about increasing the potential for spreading worms and other parasites in their barnyard. If this is an issue you struggle with, you should consider the types of worms and parasites your animals have in common. For example, sheep, goats, and cattle share similar worms that can affect each other, but do not affect horses. Putting horses out in the same pasture to graze should pose no increased risk for the animals.
If you know for sure that your animals have developed worms or other types of parasite infections, you may want to take a break from cross grazing. Keep the animals separated for about three weeks while treating. Once the issues have cleared up, you can once again resume cross grazing.