PADDOCK MAINTENANCE - Part 2 Spraying, Topping and Fertilizing Your Grassland

Following on from the first part of paddock maintenance (CLICK HERE FOR PART 1), the next stage of management involves the spraying, topping and fertilizing of the pasture. 

HA0749Bob Atkins
Spring time is just around the corner, honest! Sunny days will begin to warm the soil and the grass start to grow however the weeds are not so particular about weather conditions and will quickly flourish so treat them soon to allow the pasture to produce as much grass as possible. 

This is a critical time to stop them, either by painstakingly digging out the obvious ones, or more effectively, having the areas sprayed by a qualified spray contractor. It really is worth it!

Following the miserable wet winter the broadleaf invaders such as buttercups, plantain and dandelions will thrive in the poached areas and nettles, docks and thistles will also begin to bloom so to enjoy a clean, thoroughly productive, healthy pasture organise a spray treatment. Small areas can be sprayed with knapsack sprayers and spot wands; do not spray in any breeze or in bright sunshine. Also be aware that any treated areas should be fenced off from horses for at least a week or until we have some rainfall. Always read the manufacturers' recommendations before use and wear recommended protective clothing.
Once the compacted areas have been harrowed, allowing the air in, as explained in article 1' Improve Your Grazing' and all the poo is cleared, you may find areas of tufty sour grass growing a lot quicker than others. This is time to 'top' the paddock, which means lightly mowing it all over. You may think 'why should I cut grass when I have waited so long for it to grow?' but topping actually improves the grass sward and encourages young growth as well as stimulating new root growth.

Horses tend to prefer a shorter length of grass, which is sweeter than long swards, which become sour. It also 'tops' the unwanted weeds, therefore not allowing them to seed and spread even further. If as a result of 'topping' you have patches of a lot of cut grass, collect it up and dispose of it sensibly - some horses may gorge on these clippings which are not good for them and can bring on colic from excessive fermentation.
A soil analysis will have determined your paddock's nutrient levels and therefore determined the corrective fertilizer balance required. However, if you have not done this, there are specialist paddock fertilizers on the market for horse pasture which offer a very balanced approach. It's as well to remember though, that you may be spending money on unnecessary treatments which do not produce the desired results as the real needs are not known; this may be a case of false economy. A well-managed paddock or field can help enormously with feed bills, therefore the initial outlay for the analysis may be money well spent.

Depending on the size of your paddock you may be able to apply the fertilizer yourself without having to pay for a contractor or friendly neighbouring farmer to spread it for you. Always wear protective clothing, extra thick rubber gloves, a mask and goggles, tip some fertilizer in a bucket and walk in a methodical pattern throwing the fertilizer from the bucket in an arc in front of you. A rhythm will soon develop and it really can be quite therapeutic! Or is that just us on the horse answers today team!

Spread the fertiliser as evenly as possible and remove the horses for a week or until we have had rain fall. You will be able to see the granules quite clearly on the surface, so watch their deterioration to determine when it would be safe to turn the horses out again on the treated area. If in any doubt seek professional advice or ask a farmer. 
Splitting or Slicing
The use of a 'splitter' or 'slicer', aids the absorption of the fertilizer's granules, aerates the land and dispels any soggy stagnant areas even more. This is a towed machine consisting of triangular steel blades on a rotating drum which slice through the land roughly every 12 inches at a depth of 2-3 inches depending on the moisture content. The action can also discourage moles as they dislike the noise and the machine's action can break open any shallow runs in the earth.  

Continue regular poo picking, keep an eye on weed growth, keep your pasture topped and harrow frequently. You and your horse should be able to enjoy a clean pasture which is of maximum benefit for the horse and will maintain a strong enough root base to survive whatever the seasons bring. 
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