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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Forage Production Strategies for Horses at Farm Science Review

August 31, 2007

LONDON, Ohio -- With alfalfa harvest falling short and much of Ohio's pastureland unsuitable for forage due to this season's drought, managing adequate, high-quality feed for horses has become a challenge for many owners.


Gary Wilson, an Ohio State University Extension educator for Hancock County, said that horses are more sensitive to feed than cattle and graze more often than other livestock. In times of dry conditions, keeping a horse happy and healthy can be difficult.

"Horses are more sensitive to forages than cattle and poor silage or spoiled silage can easily upset their digestive system," said Wilson. "Additionally, horses prefer pasture over stored forages. They graze 17 hours a day compared to eight hours for cattle. Half of their diet comes from forages."

Wilson will be at Farm Science Review at 10 a.m. on Sept. 19 in the Small Farm Center to offer strategies for managing pastureland and other forages. Wilson's presentation will be a condensed version of "Forages for Horses," a two-day OSU Extension program offered throughout Ohio that covers such topics as pasture management, poisonous plant identification, manure management, soil and forage fertility, forage species selection, paddock management, crop rotation, composting, hay storage, and market management.

In Ohio, there are approximately 195,000 head of horses managed by 45,000 horse owners on small parcels of land -- usually two to five acres.

"Horse owners are starved for this kind of information. Most owners don't come from a farm background, so they may not entirely understand the practices for managing forages for horses. It can get very expensive," said Wilson. "But if you manage pastureland right, it can last you for a lifetime."

Wilson said that horse owners run into two main problems when managing pastureland: overgrazing and undergrazing. Dry conditions can exacerbate both.

"During a dry year, overgrazing can ruin a pasture, making it difficult for the pasture to bounce back. Horses will eat those grasses right to the ground. Pasture rotation is the best solution," said Wilson. "Owners also need to be careful in situations of undergrazing. Horses prefer pastureland over stored forages and it takes them a long time to adjust to a different feeding regimen. A little overgrazing early in the pasture will cost owners more in hay later."

According to the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Services, nearly half of Ohio's pastureland is in poor to very poor condition. Alfalfa production is projected to be down 570,000 tons compared to 2006.

In the future, Wilson and his colleagues will also be educating horse owners on mud lot management and renovations. OSU Extension educators were awarded a $124,000 Great Lakes Commission grant that emphasizes mud lot renovations and the importance of keeping horses clean and healthy.

Farm Science Review will be held Sept. 18-20 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio. The event is sponsored by Ohio State University Extension, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Tickets are $8 at the gate or $5 in advance when purchased from county offices of OSU Extension or participating agribusinesses. Children 5 and younger are admitted free. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept 18-19 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 20. For more information, log on to


Candace Pollock
Gary Wilson