Documenting Pasture and Nutrient Management Systems
Working under a Chesapeake Bay grant, twenty-three equine operations were randomly selected to serve as farm cooperators. The goal of this project was to document conservation and management practices already in place on equine operations and identify areas of concern and improvement. The research team finalized field farm survey instruments, quantitatively documented pasture plants and canopy cover, sampled feed, hay and soil, conducted nutrient management audits and documented conservation and farm management practices. Pasture data was collected using line point transect methodology. Data included % canopy cover, % basal stem coverage, % quality forage, % bare ground, % herbaceous litter. All plant species were documented in the target area. Pasture Condition scores were also generated for all pastures on the farms using the Vermont pasture Condition score Sheet. Total plant canopy cover on most of the test farms was adequate to prevent erosion and sediment loss. Results revealed that 11 of the farms had a plant canopy cover of over 90%. Seven farms had a canopy cover between 80 and 90%. One farm had a canopy cover of 75% and only one farm was below 70%. Although canopy cover was adequate, many pastures were poor quality with weeds making up a large per cent of the canopy. Two of the twenty farms had pastures that contained a dense population of desirable plants. Over 80% of the plants in the pastures supplied nutrition for the horses. Six of the farms had pastures that had a low to medium density of desirable plants with only 60-75% of the plants supplying nutrition. Eight of the twenty farms had pastures with a low density of desirable plants with only 50-60% of the plants having forage value. Four of the twenty farms had a very low density of desirable plants with less than 50% of the plants supplying nutrition for the horses.
Soil tests conducted on 65 pastures on the 23 equine operations revealed that 41% of the pastures were deficient in phosphorus and 60% needed potassium. However, 53% of the farms hauled manure (stockpiled and fresh) off-farm. An additional 27% spread fresh manure and only 7% composted manure. This data reveals the need for education and assistance in developing compost systems. Properly composted manure adds value to manure as a resource. It can be used on-farm, applied to pastures, used off-site, or sold. Lack of knowledge and time, and fear of spreading parasites, are the reasons most often cited as a barrier to composting.