Managing Weeds in Your Horse’s Pasture.

Pasture weeds can be a real problem, either because of the rate at which they grow and spread or because of their poisonous properties. An effective and well managed weed containment program must be in place wherever horses are pastured. Among the manager’s concerns should be the pasture’s purpose, the weed species native to the area, weed management priority and available resources.

When Should We Develop Our Weed Management Program?

Fall is a good time to evaluate your horse’s pasture quality because it’s easy to see which weeds were most prevalent during summertime and are now large and seed-producing. Before next year’s growing season is the ideal time for developing a weed management plan.

What is the Purpose of the Pasture?

When reviewing a horse pasture, the main consideration should be the growth of high quality forage that is as weed free as possible.

Weed Species: Abundance and Distribution?

The plants that we call weeds grow in “ecological niches.” Unfortunately for us, horse pastures provide several of the ecological niches that are very weed friendly. An example of this is Kentucky, which is located in the temperate transition zone that allows both warm-season and cool-season plants to grow. Warm-season weeds germinate in spring or early summer, grow and produce seeds before frost. Cool-season weeds germinate and grow in the fall, producing seeds the following spring or summer. The many cool and warm season weed species common to Kentucky, therefore, provide horse pasture managers with the challenge of determining which weeds, if any, should be controlled. The most abundant weeds in horse pastures are typically “annual species,” notorious for producing thousands of seeds. These seeds spread and take root throughout the pasture, becoming increasingly troublesome, from year to year. Weeds of this nature can quickly overtake pasture.

How Should You Prioritize Your Weed Management Strategy?

It’s critical that all poisonous weeds and “prickly” weeds, that inhibit grazing, be removed. Poison hemlock, for instance, is extremely toxic. Although horses rarely eat the weed, it should be removed in case it is accidently ingested or in times of low pasture, when a hungry horse mind become less choosy. Musk thistle, Canada thistle and bull thistle inhibit grazing where they grow, are difficult to control and should be removed in order to prevent spreading. It is interesting to note that horses will readily consume any small, tender “weeds” but rarely consume them as large plants.

How Best to Control Weeds in Horse Pastures?

There are numerous methods of removing horse pasture weeds without having to use herbicides. Use of chemical applications should be a last resort in order to keep the horse’s grazing as organic as possible. Weed control methods can include hand removal and mowing. Hand-weeding can be very effective and is particularly useful for removing poisonous plants from the pasture. When removed by hand, you can guarantee they are removed in full including the roots, and will ensure any seeds are collected at the time and the weeds are not allowed to spread. However, the downside of hand-weeding is that the process is slow and inefficient for large areas.

Mowing can be used in large areas but is not normally effective for killing weeds in pasture. They can be cut down to a level where they cannot be eaten and can prevent larger weeds from producing seeds but this method does not inhibit smaller weed growth.

If you do plan to use herbicides, it is important to firstly ensure that you are using the right treatment and that you are using it at the right time. For example, the following months are the preferred times for herbicide treatment of several common weed species:

  • October-November: Common chickweed, henbit, purple deadnettle, dandelion, buckhorn plantain, buckhorn plantain, musk thistle, bull thistle, Canada thistle, poison hemlock.
  • February-March: buttercups, curly dock, broadleaf dock, chicory
  • May-July: spiny pigweed, white clover, hemp dogbane, goldenrod, cocklebur, perilla mint, common ragweed, jimsonweed

Remember, not all herbicides are registered for use in all states and countries, so read the label carefully and follow all directions.

Weeds can be extremely troublesome, but, with thoughtful planning and careful management, you can protect your horse’s precious pasture like a pro.