How can you keep your fields in the best condition possible over the winter? Following these tips could help.
During the winter season it is important to preserve grazing as much as possible. If fields are not maintained correctly over winter then come spring and summer there will be no grazing at all. Of course it’s important your horse is turned out adequately but you want to save your grazing as much as possible too. If you have the resources to separate your grazing into separate paddocks with temporary electric fencing this is ideal. This will give you the flexibility to rotate the fields you use and rest fields that have been over used. If you have the land space to rest certain fields permanently over the winter this will mean you have good grazing for the summer however this is not always possible. If the ground is really wet then if you can avoid turning out this is the most ideal. In this instance to still allow your horse time out of the stable try turning out into a school for an hour.
When it’s such a grim day outside some horses will just stand at the gate. When there is little grass to eat horses can get bored easily and they begin to long to come in. Horses constantly standing at the gate will cause the ground in this area to churn up. If you have the time you could try turning your horse out twice a day for shorter periods.If there is little grazing adding piles of hay to the field can help keep them entertained and away from the gate. Remember though to always add more piles than the number of horses and as horses like to ‘graze’ space the piles out to allow them to still graze from pile to pile.If the horses on your yard are often turned out together in a group, reducing the amount of horses going out at the same time can help. If you have horses that don’t need to go out everyday alternating the days they go out will rest the fields somewhat. If your horse needs turning out everyday then turning half out in the morning and half out in the afternoon can be an ideal compromise. Often horses prefer to be out for a shorter period of time so this can really help.If like most horse owners you simply don’t have the time to be at your horses beckon call try sectioning back a temporary gate to prevent the actual gate from becoming too churned up. By doing this the temporary gate can be moved regularly before the ground gets too churned up.
If you have wooden fencing then a lot of rain can damage the wood and cause a number of problems such as rotting. Treat the wood prior to winter with an animal safe wood treatment to maintain the wood over the wet season. Repair any broken fence panels as soon as possible to avoid any further damage and check the fencing regular to keep it maintained. Some horses like to chew the wooden fencing this can make it vulnerable to water damage but also make it unsafe and mean that panels need replacing more frequent. This happens more in the winter when the horse is bored waiting at the fence to come in. There are many wood treatments that deter horses from chewing fencing and these can be a good investment to save money replacing fence panels over winter.
As mentioned earlier using a school to allow your horse to stretch his legs is useful if you have access to this. It allows time to rest the fields but still give the horse the space often needed. If you are using a school it’s important to ensure it’s safe for your horse and that your horse cannot just jump out. If your horse gets fretful adding a hay net can help. The first few times you use a school for turnout you need to monitor your horse and how they react. Don’t leave them too long in a school as they can often get bored. If there is really little option for you to turn your horse out over the winter hand walking is an option although not always the most ideal. You can put your horse in a bridle if needed for restraint or a head collar and lead rope if you are confident and your horse is quiet. Leading your horse to stretch out his legs and allowing him to hand graze is available can prevent your horse becoming stiff or too bored if stabled more frequent than you would like. It’s important to note though if your horse is suddenly stabled more frequently they can become quiet fresh when leading and the use of a bridle or other training aid may give you more control.
Considering the drainage of your field is important. If you have really wet ground anyway it may be an idea to add a drainage system to help pump water away from the ground to help maintain it for you. Drainage options can be expensive but as a long term fix they really can save money and time. If you already are using drainage system on your field and it isn’t performing as well as originally it may just need servicing or repairing and this could really help the drainage of your land. Preparing drainage systems in advance is most useful as it can be a larger job once the land is already battling against drainage.
Keeping the fields clear of manure and old uneaten hay as well as regularly seeding and spraying fields for weeds will really help. Speak to your local farmer who may offer a seeding and spraying service when needed. They can often offer to roll the paddocks too if they get too churned up which can really help.It is hard to manage grazing over the winter but by taking as many steps as possible to do what you can, you will help your grazing for the future seasons.