Paddock/Pasture Paradise - Anyone have one?

~*Sweet Cheeks*~

10 Years
Mar 12, 2009
Medford, Oregon

My landlord got a letter from my counties Public Health and Social Services Dept stating they had received a call from citizen concerned about livestock-keeping practices - concern of over-grazing and muddy conditions might allow manure-laden water to run-off the property and into drainages that flow to Henderson Inlet.

Their finding was: Beginning to become overgrazed and muddy but not yet a violation. Provided a flyer on pasture management.

I was talking to my barefoot trimmer who's coming on Sunday and she was telling me about Pasture Paradise and told me to go Google it.

She summerized it by saying to add fencing to my existing fencing by creating a big U or D 15-20' in that then forces the horses to the outside preserving the inside pasture to grow in the winter. Creating feeding/watering areas in various places to keep the horses moving. Adding rocks/gravel in areas to maintain healthy hooves.

My current set-up is 3 acres that is cross fenced with hotwire. The upper pasture where the horses are currently is 2 acres and stays a little more dry normally. (it has been a really wet winter in the Pacific NW). The lower pasture has a lot of standing water in it late fall through spring. When that pasture dries out, I move the horses (TWH & mini pony) to it and seed the upper pasture.

Anyone practicing Pasture/Paddock Paradise or know of anyone doing it? Anyone's thoughts or experiences?
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An outer band won't solve your problem unless you have a very peculiar 'fall' (direction runoff will naturally run).

Our extension office very, very very - VERY strongly encourages all horse owners to set up 'Sacrifice Areas'. These are smaller paddocks with sturdy fences. Any time the pasture is getting bare spots, getting too wet, too muddy, frozen - ANY time when grazing could degrade the pasture - horses are off it.

Practically speaking, maintaining grass pastures on small properties - even sometimes on bigger properties - it's quite a challenge and takes a lot of work, planning, and often - excavating, drain pipes, etc. Horses are hard on land. That's the bottom line. They are big and heavy and they move around. Many people deal with this by keeping their 'herd' small in size. And that can be sufficient in some areas - but not others

These sacrifice areas are not grassy - as it just isn't possible, in most parts of North America, anyway, to leave horses on in this size of enclosure and maintain any grass for more than a few days. It's also very costly to excavate and 'rock' areas so these areas do tend to be smaller.

Any area without a solid deep base under it of rock(again, constructed much like a road), is eventually going to deteriorate if horses are on it. Top soil just doesn't work. It eventually gets muddy and any material put on top of top soil simply will eventually disappear into the ground.

What if you don't set up good Sacrifice Areas? The pasture will degrade. It will get bitten down to bare dirt, and then it will get muddy, eroded and have runoff problems.

It HELPS if you don't 'stock hard' - generally no more than one horse per acre, depending on your area, land, etc. In many parts of the US you can't put anything NEAR one horse per acre. But whatever rate you stock your pasture at, grass pasture is a resource - one you really have to manage.

Horses can also be stabled for part of the day and fed more hay, so there is less pressure on the acreage you have. But there are just times when you can't have your horses on the pasture - especially when it's wet, you can wind up really messing it up.

As a practical matter, there are areas of North America where grazing horses and maintaining acceptable runoff quality just is - very very hard.

We have extremely heavy snows, so heavy that the ground doesn't freeze under the snow - horses walking in the snow punch right down into the mud and start sinking. These holes freeze after thaw periods and can break legs and wrench joints. We have extremely heavy melts in spring. Many properties are partially flooded or fully flooded for part or all of the spring. We have a very fast growing period with a very heavy flush of extremely rich early grass. By August, we have a drought, and our grass stops growing. In the fall, we have heavy rains.

We allowed our pasture areas to develop a root system and stabilize/settle for three years before we started limited grazing! We prepped, seeded, limed, mowed, fertilized, aerated, reseeded and removed weed plants for all that time before we had horses on it. And that's really ongoing - keeping that root system strong, protecting our wet areas, removing horses when necessary - AND keeping our herd very small.

ALL of these factors make it extremely difficult for us to maintain pasture areas that are acceptable to the county and safe for our horses. We really have no other options other than setting up Sacrifice Areas.

In our area, especially on smaller properties, most horses spend MOST of their time in their Sacrifice Areas! The grass area is kept in very good shape by light grazing, mowing and keeping horses very much off it during the muddy seasons.

Those who don't - have many more problems with the extension office. The soil and water guys push very, very hard to keep runoff quality up to parr in most US counties today. It really is a good thing, even though farmers and livestock owners have to go to extra effort.

We also use temporary, portable fencing - electric string or tape and fiberglass 'step in' poles - to temporarily block off wet or bare areas. We can move this around and take pressure off specific areas.

We also graze one area for two weeks. Then it gets to rest, and we graze the other areas. We rotate around and avoid having continuous pressure on one area.
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~*Sweet Cheeks*~ :

She summerized it by saying [/b]to add fencing to my existing fencing by creating a big U or D 15-20' in that then forces the horses to the outside preserving the inside pasture to grow in the winter. Creating feeding/watering areas in various places to keep the horses moving. Adding rocks/gravel in areas to maintain healthy hooves.

I am not familiar with this particular "brand name" approach, but am familiar with what it apparently involves.

I can tell you that running horses in loooong narrow corridors, be they straight or all around the property, requires you to have EXTRA horse-safe and horse-tight fences, and is a baaaad idea if you have horses that sometimes get along "friskily" with each other or are prone to take off on a racehorse tour of the field. I have seen too many nasty injuries that way, when horse encounters fence while galloping closely parallel (and in those sorts of corridors, "closely" is the only way they CAN go) or when they encounter an end or corner. For very sedate horses it is less risky, provided you have excellently-safe fences.

If I understand correctly you are grazing down the outer area during the summer/fall and then using the inner area in the winter. This is kind of opposite what you'd want to do if controlling runoff water-quality is a priority. For *that*, you want to have an OUTER buffer strip of never-overgrazed reasonably-tall grass when you go into the surface-runoff season.

"Add rocks/gravel" is a loaded thing, it can be done right or it can be done very, very wrong. As welsummerchicks says, I too am a wholehearted believer in having a well-engineered sacrifice pen (containing the horse's shelter and year-round water source) to which they are confined when the rest of the pasture is too splorky, too overgrazed, or growing too lushly. Basically you are building a riding arena with maybe a different footing (point being, the *foundation* is the same as for a well engineered arena) so that it drains well and never gets muddy/splorky. This is not super cheap -- although being able to do the earthmoving part of it yourself, if you have access to equipment, helps a lot -- but is SOOOOO WORTHWHILE. You can do similar things in high-traffic areas of pastures, e.g. around gateways and around water tubs, but having an all-weather sacrifice lot is REALLY A BIG THING for avoiding mud.

Also, with a sacrifice lot you can hold them off grazing for part of the day during some times of the year (at least in droughty years) so as to prevent pasture from getting overgrazed or bare. Prevention is much easier and more effective than cure in this case.

Finally, in many cases some intelligent ditching can help considerably. The ditches needn't drain off your property -- in fact if the Runoff Police have given you notice, you may want to make sure you *don't* direct obvious streams of surface water off your property -- the point is to concentrate runoff into acceptible areas and leave the rest of the place relatively dry. Needn't involve heavy equipment, I've done quite a lot of ditching on this property with just a shovel and some spare time, the big thing is to really STUDY what your drainage does in different circumstances so you can place your ditches where they will actually do something.

Good luck, have fun,

I love excavating.

I love sacrifice areas.

I love temporary fencing, hand grazing, preserving wet areas, drainage ditches, swales, gravel, drain pipes, storm drains, rock sub bases, scraping off topsoil and putting down stone, gravel and limestone, deliveries of limestone, bog gardens, rain gardens, rainbarrels, subsurface drains, dry wells and erosion plantings, storm drains out in the middle of my pasture, and I love PIPE. Green PIPE.

I am a horse owner in 2011.
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I have had Paddock Paradise on two properties. Very easy to set up and it is mainly for the horses benefit , but also manages the land better than rectangles where the horses stand and foot rot. Assuming you already have a perimeter fence. Get an electric fence charger (low impedence) then get either fiberglass or metal t-poles and either electric fence tape (1/2 " will work) for one horse and a mini or electric rope (what I use now).Two strands should be enough. Now. lay out either a corridor of about 20 feet wide ... a circle around the perimeter or you can make a A or any shape, snake ?. The idea is to give them an interesting area to walk around (movement is essential to soundness and health) and place their hay and water in different areas (horses love this set up, gives them a playground)Then you make small 'green spaces, ie; grass pastures with 2 handles and a piece of tape or rope for gates and you can make several of these and rotate them every couple days or weeks , keeping them off when extremely wet, thereby managing your property better and the horses get some grazing ....instead of turning the whole area into a mud pit. (Can place your poles much further apart then with other fencing.
This also looks better and haves PR value.
My daughters trainer has 22 horses and she put up the pasture paradise two yrs ago. It works great for them and the horses love it. She also made slow feeders and she places them throught the pasture paradise so the horses make there way around and are never standing still for long. Her horses stay in the pasture paradise throught the winter and go out to pasture in late spring (55 acres) so her pastures stay nice and mud free. Her horses do go in the barn and riding ring when the weather is bad to keep the mud down in the pasture paradise.
This property isn't so wet that there is a threat of water running off of the property. It's clay and drains slow.

Originally, when my landlord bought the property he said tons of rock where brought in. The big stuff you see at construction sites.

He said it didn't take long for the clay soil to take over.

When I moved here 3 years ago. The landlord leveled an area down to the hard clay (August) so I could build a corral area that I then constructed two 12' x 12' Noble horse structures (one with event front so I could stall if needed and one open front with a 10' covered area between them.

My then barefoot trimmer recommened a bed of pea gravel. So I spent a weekend spreading pea gravel to a depth of 8-12". For the stalls, I then covered the gravel with 1" stall mats.

When the rain hit in October that first year, I was shocked and dismayed to have all that pea gravel disappear into suck your boots off clay.

A doggy daycare going out of business sold off all there 1/2" stall mats for $5.00 each. I made three trips and layed the stall mats in the paddock area over the clay and then added free wood chips I get from tree trimming companies.

My goal is to keep the horses moving as much as possible for hoof care and overall soundness.

The landlord mentioned putting in a sump pump in the lower area of the pasture to stop it from being so wet in that area. (He's so nice).

I'm going to give the Pasture Paradise idea some thought. I welcome others who have used a similar set-up.
This sounds similar to what a local boarding barn in our area calls tracks.
They have areas set up that have feed stations, and use a lot of hay nets (they are a Parrelli/Natural horsemanship barn). The horses are on these tracks, that are oval shaped or the zip zag type thing
the others have mentioned.
The feeding stations are permanent, but I am sure yours don't have to be. They put hay in the stations, and the horses walk from feeder to feeder, maintaining healthy feet, guts and are self excersizing too.
They are brought in once a day for grain or supplements if needed, they must have a negative fecal done 2x a year, and some are blanketed since their owners ride a lot.

I am a fan of cross fencing and a sacrafice area. I have a friend that has two large pastures and with only 5-6 horses, with no cross fencing, has very little grass after a few weeks, so has to feed hay year round.
Even a good boarding stable I know, creates a smaller enclosed area, and seeds the smaller turnout pastures for horses that are stalled at night. The horses are out from 6-2pm, and they usually have to mow.
If you decide that the Paddock paradise won't work for you, let me tell you of some cross fencing ideas.

With the three acres you have. Look to have a drainage area put in OR simply fence off the super muddy/boggy/pond area till it starts to dry up. THEN seed it with a pasture mix. Let it grow.
I would create a paddock, and only allow the horses out on the grass during the day, bringing them in to the paddock in the early evening.
Cross fence your pasture into pie slices. WHy that? By doing that you can allow them to come up to the water and shelter with out having to move the water or leaving them with out shelter.
Giving them 4-6 days on each piece, only during the day, then opening up the new section will allow the grass to recover and grow.
Go out every day and remove poop from the paddock and the pasture. You will kill new growth if the poop piles up too high, leaving areas that will grow weeds and the horses won't eat where the poop piles up, even if grass grows there...
You can compost it, and people will line up to get it!! Reseed in the fall if you can, and reseed the pond area in the spring.

Good luck with whatever you decide and let us know how it turns out.!

Yeah, the thing about gravel is you can't just get "some" kind of gravel and "put it down", especially on wet clay. That is the reason for needing to thoughtfully *engineer* a sacrifice paddock (or even just the area around a shed or gateway) as if it were an arena foundation. You generally want roadbase not gravel for much of it, and you need it MACHINE COMPACTED EXTREMELY HARD then top it with an appropriate top layer. In some soils you need to put down geotextile in the most problematic areas, as a bottom or middle layer, to keep the stuff from sinking into the clay -- do people in your area typically need geotextile for gravel driveways/parkinglots in order to keep the gravel from disappearing in a few years?

Of course, since you are renting (sorry, I missed that in your first post) this is most likely not an option for you unless the property owner gets on board and wants to spring for it.

I have to laugh at the idea of a sump pump to keep a pasture dry. Your landlord needs a course in groundwater hydrology. Ditches or tiling or something, sure. Sump pump, not gonna do anything much except cost you money and aggravation.

Truthfully the best solution I know of for "keeping horses moving as much as possible" is to have few horses in large pastures (there is a real limit to how much a horse can/will move around in just 3 acres) , and NOT tightly subdivide for rotation. I firmly believe that small paddocks for rotational grazing may be good for the *grazing* but not good for most *horses*. So you kind of have to choose.

I have to warn you one last time about narrow, narrow paddocks, especially if they are electric fenced with fiberglass or T posts. I have seen too many catastrophic injuries (even among basically calm horses) to personally feel that's a good idea.

Good luck, have fun,


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