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Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Horse > Research updates > Cool-Season Pasture Grasses

Cool-Season Pasture Grasses

Plant mixtures of Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, and tall and meadow fescue.

Authors: Beth Allen, Krishona Martinson, and Craig Sheaffer, University of Minnesota

Cool-season grasses are the foundation of productive pastures throughout most of the U.S., however, many grasses have not been evaluated under horse grazing in the Midwest U.S. The objective of this study, conducted at the University of Minneosota, was to evaluate forage yield and persistence of cool-season grasses under horse grazing.

Four adult horses grazed tall fescue, meadow fescue, quackgrass, smooth bromegrass, meadow bromegrass, reed canarygrass, perennial ryegrass, timothy, Kentucky bluegrass, creeping foxtail, and orchardgrass. Horses grazed each month from May to October in 2010 and May to September in 2011.

Orchardgrass, meadow fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue were the most persistent grasses with ≥78% ground cover, while timothy, reed canarygrass, smooth bromegrass, and creeping foxtail were less persistent, with ≤ 24% ground cover.

Orchardgrass produced the highest yields while creeping foxtail, smooth bromegrass, and timothy produced the lowest yield. The majority of yield for most grasses occurred during summer, with summer months contributing 32 to 74% of the total yield.

Kentucky bluegrass, timothy, and meadow fescue were the most preferred grasses with most post-grazing forage removals greater than 60%, while meadow bromegrass, creeping foxtail, reed canarygrass, and orchardgrass were less preferred with most post-grazing forage removals less than 50%.

To maximize forage use, grasses with similar preferences that persist well under horse grazing should be planted in horse pastures. A mixture that results in uniform grazing should maximize forage use and minimize pasture maintenance and associated expenses. To accomplish this, planting mixtures of Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, and tall and meadow fescue in well-grained soils should achieve a balance of forage persistence, horse preference, and maximum yield in Midwest U.S. horse pastures.

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