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Research has shown that it is important to maintain at least 70% to 75% canopy cover in pastures. Below that, erosion and significant sediment and nutrient loss can occur. Nutrients and sediments can have a negative effect on both ground and surface water quality. A pasture canopy cover that is above 70% is considered good and will adequately prevent extensive soil erosion. Ideally, canopy cover should be maintained above 80% and the canopy should be composed of plants that provide nutrition for the horses.
Since horses do not uniformly graze pastures, evaluating pastures using single line-intercept methodology does not provide accurate data. To meet the need for an efficient and accurate method of evaluating canopy cover and document plant species, the Penn State Equine Team developed the Equine Pasture Evaluation Disc (EPED). The EPED is easy to use and provides accurate, random information. The EPED is randomly tossed throughout the entire pasture by walking a "W" pattern. A minimum of 20 tosses is necessary to provided accurate data. An arrow on the edge of the disc indicates the location that the data is to be collected. Only plants that touch the point of the arrow are recorded. If the arrow lands on bare ground or something other than a plant, that information is recorded as well. From the data collected, the percent of the pasture that is covered by plants can be determined and the percent of the pasture covered by plants that provide nutritional value for horse can be evaluated.
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