by: Marcia King
October 01 2000, Article # 112
When it comes to small horse pastures, pasturettes, or ranchettes, less equals more. More stress on pasture grasses, more likelihood of overgrazing, more pressure on fencing, more routine maintenance. But with proper management, pasturettes can be healthy and productive acres.
A healthy pasture begins with realistic expectations. "Many new horse owners believe that because the pasture is green, it's going to provide adequate nutrition for the horse. That might or might not be true, depending on the condition of the pasture," says Jerry Black, DVM, owner of Pioneer Equine Hospital (an equine referral practice) and vice president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. Residing on an 80-acre ranch in Oakdale, Calif., Black is familiar with the management practices of smaller acreage; his own ranch is divided into many small pastures to accommodate a large breeding operation, and the region in general consists of many ranchettes.
Depending on climatic and geographic conditions, stocking rate, management practices, and hardiness of the forage, pasturettes vary in what they can offer a horse. Some function best as a limited daily turn-out/exercise area in which some grazing supplements the horse's daily ration. The horse spends most of its day in a barn, holding corral, or paddock. Properly managed small pastures in optimal regions can provide significant, nutritious forage. Explains Ann Swinker, PhD (physiology), state cooperative extension specialist, Colorado State University, "On our 40-acre ranch, we have a five-acre pasture that produces so much grass that during the growing season, we have to turn a few cattle out on it for a week or two to graze it down. Some folks here in Colorado (where it is semi-arid) irrigate, fertilize, and rotate their pastures and get a phenomenal amount of production off those pastures. Other folks with the same kind of property, mismanaged, have pastures that are eaten down to nothing. It all depends on how much effort you can put into it."