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PADDOCK MANAGEMENT

This page is under construction! Suggestions welcomed.

This is a new page hopefully to help owners with their land management problems. Being an active farmer with professional qualifications means that I probably do know a bit, though I sometimes wonder! Be aware, that good practice depends on your soil, your climate, what you are attempting to achieve, and a whole lot of other factors that often makes paddock maintenance more art than science.

 

Harrowing

There are a whole variety of types of harrows, but the type most used by horse owners will be spiked chain harrows. My own have 75mm spikes on one side and none on the other. The spikes rip up the ground slightly and can help spread mole hills, wheel ruts, and clods thrown up by horse's hooves. The harrows can be turned over and used with the spikes up. Used this way, the chain tends to smooth the grass in a gentler fashion. I use chain harrows to spread poo and mole hills, and hopefully help with the control of intestinal worms.

Harrowing needs to be done when conditions are right. Wait until the land is dry enough to drive the tractor on without leaving wheel marks but the poo is soft enough to break up easily. But I am on sand. If on clay, I'd harrow, again when the land is reasonably dry, with the intention of breaking up and speading clods. I have an old railway sleeper dragged behind the harrows to break up and spread the poo. As you can see, the poo is really thick after the ponies have been on the field all winter. It will be cut for hay so I am saving money on fertiliser! Oh, and I harrow twice, the second time at right angles to the first.

Harrowing spreads the poo but with it any worm eggs. Spreading the poo stops the formation of patches of coarse unpalatable grass where horses have pooed. So the field needs to be rested after harrowing. Disturbed soil has been associated with grass sickness, so be aware. That makes it sound as if harrowing is a bad idea but that isn't necessarily so. I wait until the poo has almost disappeared before putting ponies back onto harrowed fields. Exposure to frost and sunlight helps kill worm eggs and it will be washed into th soil where it can do some good after a few weeks of rain. So far, touch wood, harrowing has not led to an increase of intestinal worms here, in fact quite the reverse, and we have plenty of fresh fields to move ponies on to. But we do worm routinely as well. Since I started harrowing, the fields look healthier and I have more grass. Harrowing behind a small tractor is quicker and cheaper than using the poo vacuum. Poo picking by hand behind a dozen ponies just isn't practical, even with a machine.

 

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Rolling

Harrowing will inevitably pull up stones. Rolling is done to press them into the ground again so they don't smash the knives on the mower when you make hay. Rolling will also press down any divots turned up by horses' hooves and break up the sods. Pressing any grass seeds into firm contact with the soil is a good idea because they are tiny and the seedlings are susceptible to frost and drying out. Rolling will also flatten unevenness in the ground though it is surprising how little effect even a heavy water filled roller will have. Be careful using a heavy roller on clay soils as they can cause 'capping'. That's the formation of a hard surface crust that water and plant roots have difficulty penetrating. Rolling also crushes the grass stolons or branches so they sprout new shoots with the beneficial effect of thickening a thin sward. The small rollers towed behind a quad really don't do much and in my opinion are a waste of time and money!

Topping

Traditionally, grass fields were 'topped' to control weeds. That is, they are mown to a specific height, 100mm - 150mm, which reduced the grass to an even height. It is best done when the weed seed heads have formed but not hardened off. The heads are cut off, dry out, and die so the seeds cannot germinate. Topping also reduces the height of the longer thicker old grass that grows around poo piles and has become coarse and unpalatable. It is the fresh young shoots that all grazing animals prefer. Topping also makes the fields look nice and neat and I suspect that's why a lot of owners do it!

Land Drainage

Water seeks it's own level, both above the surface and below. The top of the water level below ground is called 'the water table'. Dig a hole and, assuming the soil is porous, it will fill to the level of this underground water table. Plant roots and soil organisms cannot live under water for long because there is no oxygen and they die. That is why farmers either drain their their land or assist natural drainage. Two examples of impervious soils are peat (made up of dead organic matter) and clay (soil particles are so small that they impede the passage of water). But if soil is reasonably dry, these organisms can live and in doing to they form small passages which aid the passage of water. The spoil becomes porous. That is why old drained fen soils composed mainly of peat are organically rich and very valuable for agriculture. The key is drainage.