Annual Paddock Maintenance

Paddock maintenance isn’t complicated, arduous or particularly hard – it just needs a quick half hour inspection and walk-over around this time of year (early to mid spring). What may look green from your house may well be a bit sparse, muddy and damaged when you get up close and personal with it!

  • Is the ground poached, rutted and damaged?
  • Are there any bare areas devoid of grass?
  • Does any grass that is present look vibrant & healthy?
  • What evidence is there of any weeds (ragwort, buttercup, bramble, dock)?
  • Does the ground look compacted or is it badly churned up in places (usually high traffic areas)?

The following is some simple advice about paddock maintenance and management, and all services I provide. I am happy to negotiate on prices for bulk work requests from one off harrowing, through to rotivating, harrowing, reseeding/feeding and rolling.

Collect horse droppings regularly (preferably every day, particularly if you have a high horse density per paddock). Don’t be tempted to spread them around the paddock by harrowing. I don’t advocate using harrows as a replacement for ‘poo picking’ in horse paddocks – it’s much more beneficial to collect the horse droppings on a daily basis than it is spread it around the paddock on a regular basis, especially at this time of year with the potential to distribute worms around the paddocks.

Book paddocks in for harrowing a minimum of twice a year (spring and autumn) to remove dead thatch and moss from the grass sward, improve grass growth through aeration, reduce compaction caused by horse hooves and help improve surface drainage. Chain harrowing is usually all that is required as it both levels the surface and removes thatch and moss. In some cases, spring tine / weed tine harrowing may also be required if weeds need to be removed, the moss and thatch within the grass sward is particularly thick or reseeding is required. Spring tine harrowing creates the best tithe for seeding, and can usually be combined with feeding / over seeding at the same time to save on cost.

I see people on a mini-tractor or quad bike dragging trailed chain harrows at warp speed 9 and wondering why the harrow is bouncing around and achieving very little. The design of chain harrows goes back hundreds of years to when they were pulled by horses – at a walking pace! I use ‘mounted’ chain harrows as opposed to trailed chain harrows, as extra weight can be used on mounted harrows to get maximum efficiency, unlike trailed harrows. I can also back into awkward corners and level uneven ground a lot more effectively with ‘mounted’ chain harrows than is possible with trailed ones.

Rotate horses around your paddocks. Try to give each paddock a rest for at least three to four weeks per year during the spring and summer. If grass is grazed flat constantly then gradually the grass will become weaker as the roots are not able to recharge their batteries by photosynthesis from the leaves and they may start to die leaving bare patches. These bare patches allow weeds to germinate and take over areas of the paddock, as well as being notoriously compacted and hard in the warmer summer months.

Book paddocks in for fertilisation / feeding. Whilst you don’t want too much or too thick grass in equine paddocks, you are asking a lot of any paddocks that are heavily grazed all the time to keep producing grass. A regular annual fertiliser feed will help maintain a steady growth of grass, and give it that little helping hand it needs.

Regularly inspect the paddocks and treat for weeds as necessary – sometimes it’s just a case of pulling up a few Ragwort plants or docks. Badly infested paddocks are usually the result of overgrazing and winter poaching causing bare patches which weeds then germinate in. The best way to keep weeds at bay is an actively growing and healthy grass sward, but spraying can be required, especially for persistent and stubborn weeds such as bramble, nettle, dock and buttercup.

Poached ground is caused by allowing horses to remain in paddocks that have become too wet and suffer from a lack of drainage (or exceptionally wet weather). This may be due to having no other paddocks to use, ground compaction, or due to the soil substrate. It will be especially noticeable in areas of paddocks that are high traffic areas – gateways, water drinkers, shelters and areas where horses are fed. The easiest way to avoid this is by restricting horse access to wet paddocks (or areas within wet paddocks) or rotating paddocks through the winter. Many people have very limited ground and this may not always be practical or possible.

Rolling has to be carried out at the right time. If rolling is carried out when the ground is too wet, the damage will be made worse and the roller will simply clog up with mud. If rolling is carried out too late, the ground will be too hard for the roller to have any effect. For ground that has been badly damaged and dried, rolling on its own will probably not be sufficient, and treatment with a rotivator or power harrow may be required to level the ground properly. These will level off badly damaged and poached areas that have dried and become too compacted for the harrow to level. Paddocks which have suffered lots of damage through the winter may want over-seeding and then rolling to press in the seed. I would only recommend over-seeding if you can keep horses off the seeded area until the new grass has germinated well. Rolling, by it’s very nature, compacts the ground as well as leveling and pressing in seed unfortunately, which is why there should never be a regime of routine rolling of paddocks. Instead, rolling should be undertaken only when required to keep compaction to a minimum.

If there is already some spring grass growth, then rolling the crowns or seeds of the grass to crush them encourages ‘spreading’ of the grass seeds and so maximises spring growth (effectively doing nature’s work for her). Similarly, if the grass has grown well, topping it with a tractor mounted topper can spread any grass seed which has occurred naturally, as well as taking out any weeds before they germinate.

Hard and compacted ground is predominantly caused by overgrazing or have too many horses per acre. A slitter or aerator can be used behind the tractor to aerate and de-compact the top 150mm – 300mm of ground. This will improve drainage and let air, water and nutrients reach the roots of the grass, improving the spring growth and reducing recovery time. In more severe cases I can use a tractor-mounted subsoiler to reduce compaction, which can be better in gravel or extremely compacted areas, and will improve surface and sub-surface drainage. The sub-soiler can also be used to lay drinker / irrigation pipes into the ground with a minimum of disturbance.

I am happy to provide all the services mentioned above with a compact tractor than can be trailered to sites behind a 4×4, or much larger tractors and equipment that can be driven to sites. Please contact me for quotes and prices – matt@acc-contracting.com or see ACC Contracting Services & Products.

All the Best,

Matt – ACC Contracting

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