Development and implementation of an equine environmental stewardship program

Final Report for LNE10-303

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $135,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Penn State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Ann Swinker
Penn State University
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

The project team reached 762 horse owners with the Equine Environmental Stewardship (EES) Course workshops, by hosting 29 Equine Environmental Stewardship Workshops, 2-4 day short courses offered in Pennsylvania and New York. Over 3,200 additional farm/horse owners have attended individual workshops dealing with environmental stewardship and farm management issues through Horse Expos, clinics and Pa Ag Progress Days.

Overall, 81 percent of all workshop participants reported adopting at least two BMPs strategies to improve conditions on their farm. Workshop participants reported that they planned to adopt the following BMPs strategies: 74% (n=564) planned to add additional paddocks, stress lots to reduce grazing pressure. 72% (n=548) planned to generate a forage, weed and toxic plant inventory for their farm. 72% (n=548) planned to renovate the pastures to introduce new varieties and thicken the stand. 86% (n=518) planned to apply nutrients based on soil test results. 66% (n=503) planned to develop a better manure storage facility. 80% (n=610) already contact or planned to contact agencies for assistance. 100% (n=762) Worked on their farm’s Manure Management Plan.

As a result of completing the EES short course 90% of participants indicated that they had a large increase in knowledge about forage biology and growth, how to renovate pastures, how to identify forage species, how to properly store and utilize manure, how nutrients affect plant growth, how to apply nutrients based on a soil test report, the importance of identifying weeds in pastures, and who to contact for assistance with pasture and nutrient management planning.

Development of the Equine Pasture Evaluation Disk (EPED) proved to be an efficient, accurate, user-friendly method to evaluate canopy cover and document plant species in pastures; 366 adults and 86 youth have used the EPED to evaluate their pastures, with 91% stating that recording data made them more aware of pasture conditions. The EPED has made them more aware of overgrazing and developed an interest in weed identification and control. In addition, the EPED and score sheet has been used by 4-H youth groups, at NRCS pasture field days, and SPCA groups.

Forty cooperating horse farms (ranging from 5 to 170) were visited to evaluate the operation’s environmental best management practices (BMPs) and provided site-specific recommendations. From the 40 farms, 14 equine farms were used as demonstration research sites and were assisted with increasing pasture canopy cover. However, what was found on many of the horse farms, before renovation, was that pasture canopy cover near 80%, which is acceptable to reduce erosion, but only 50% of the canopy cover contained desirable forage grasses or legumes. The remaining 30% consisted of summer annuals and perennial weeds.

On one of the farms, after reseeding the pasture, conditions improved with vegetated cover increaisng from 80% to 100% with 98% of the cover consisting of perennial plants that can provide erosion protection in winter and early spring. The concentration of forage that supplies nutrition for the horses increased form 50% to 94%. After farm (N=40) visits, 67% of farm managers incorporated the suggested practices into their operations. The remaining 33% reported that they wanted to utilize the suggested practices, but required financial assistance or more technical information. The equine farm’s participation in the program has demonstrated to the equine industry agronomic and environmental benefits.

Information gathered from the team’s research generated 19 scientific publications, abstracts, and presentations at national meetings, several popular press, trade magazine and social media articles. Results of the information gathered in the team’s program has been used and examined by state regulatory agencies assisting the agencies in developing and revising potential regulations and assistance concerning equine farm operations.

Introduction:

Nationally, the equine industry continues to grow and expand and is filling a void left by the decline in some sectors of traditional agriculture. In Pennsylvania, as in many states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region, the fastest growing segment of the livestock industry is the equine sector.

According to a survey conducted by Penn State University, Pennsylvania’s equine population has increased by 50% from 1993 to 2005 (170,000 to 255,000). Increased revenues, generated from the casino gaming industry, are being used to support race horse breeder incentive programs. As a result, many breeding farms are relocating operations to Pennsylvania and the number of stallions, mares, and foals on existing farms have greatly increased.

The 2003 Penn State University Economic Impact Study presents many good reasons to safeguard and promote the equine industry. It shows that, in a multitude of ways, horses are good for Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians generally support land preservation, and this study shows that equine owners keep 1.14 million acres of Pennsylvania land in farmland. That does not include land kept as open space for riding and competitions, many of which is located in counties with the highest development pressures. While much of production agriculture is being challenged by the current economic environment, the equine industry is increasing in number of operations and total number of horses. This study shows that the numbers of equine have increased 27% in the last ten years. More horses mean a stronger demand for production agriculture and the infrastructure that supports it.

Most Pennsylvanians agree that protecting farmland and providing a strong farm economy are good for everyone’s quality of life. With the economic hardships currently placed on other sectors of Pennsylvania agricultural commodities, the increase in sales and services provided by the equine industry is generating much needed support for the entire agricultural industry. State Environmental regulations are having a direct impact on equine operations. Horse farm operations have not been eligible for cost-share funding in the past and have not been regulated directly. Under revised regulations, concentrated equine operations fall under Act 38, Pennsylvania Nutrient Management regulations and will be required to have a certified nutrient management plan for the farm. However, farms with fewer than 8 Animal Equivalent Units (AEUs) will not be regulated under this Act.

Small farms, under 8 AEUs, frequently have fewer acres per animal unit and have the potential to pose a significant environmental risk (State Conservation Commission, 2006). Recently released manure management regulations require all livestock owners who produce manure with one or more animals to have a manure management plan. Horse owners need to be made aware of these regulations and need assistance in understanding the basics needed to write these plans. These new regulations require pastures to maintain dense vegetation with at least 3 inches of growth and a minimum canopy cover of 80% during the growing season. Since pasture data collected on Pennsylvania equine operation revealed that much of the vegetation in equine pastures is summer annual grasses, such as crabgrass, foxtail and annual bluegrass, this regulation may be challenging for small farms with a moderate to high density of horses and livestock. New systems of providing late fall/winter/spring cover may need to be identified.

Of the 31,000 operations that house horses in Pennsylvania, 23,250 are non-commercial operations and over 75 percent are on limited acreage, requiring intensive management (PSU, 2003). In addition, non-commercial, small farms with fewer than 10 equines rarely have nutrient management plans and are more likely to stockpile manure and leave it on the premises unused (24%). Smaller farms frequently maintain horses at stocking rates of less than 1 acre per horse and rarely use stress lots and rotational grazing to enhance vegetative cover (Foulk, 2005). The Pennsylvania Equine Environmental Stewardship Program was developed as a comprehensive strategy to promote adoption of best management practices on equine operations and involves on farm research, educational outreach, and on–farm assistance.

The program has three distinct components: 1. Developing a comprehensive educational program to increase farm managers’ knowledge and skills in understanding, selecting, and implementing sustainable farm management practices (BMPs). 2. Documenting and quantifying existing conservation, manure, nutrient and farm management practices and soil and pasture conditions. 3. Providing on-farm assistance with BMP implementation.

Performance Target:

Performance target: The project manager will deliver education, outreach, and pasture evaluation tools collaboratively with NRCS and USDA to 10,000 horse farm operators, with 400 completing a short course and 28 serving as on-farm cooperators for trials and demonstrations. Ten farms will increase canopy cover to 70 to 80 percent, reducing sediment loss by over a ton per acre per year, resulting in a potential soil loss savings of 37 tons per farm.

1. A major goal of the project is to develop and offer the Equine Environmental Stewardship Short Course. The course, which will be offered at various locations throughout the region, will provide information and “hands on” learning experiences designed to provide horse owners with the knowledge and skills necessary to adopt sustainable and environmentally sound farm management practices. The short course will include a minimum of 12 hours of instruction and associated activities designed to allow participants to obtain the knowledge and gather the data they need to develop plans for their own farm operations. Result: 762 horse farm managers/owners attended the 2-4 day Equine Environmental Stewardship (EES) short courses. The team hosted 29 ESS short courses at different locations across Pennsylvania and New York.

2. A second goal of the program is to offer a series of “stand alone” workshops and educational opportunities using a variety of delivery methods for diverse clientele groups. Workshops and web-based programming will be provided for horse owners as well as equine professionals, veterinarians, agricultural service providers, and agency representatives that deal with managers of equine operations. Results: Over 3,200 additional farm/horse owners have attended individual workshops dealing with environmental stewardship and farm management issues; these programs were conducted through Horse Expos, clinics and Ag Progress Days conducted in the eastern United States.

3. A third goal is to work directly with farm cooperators to identify, implement, and evaluate pre-determined, environmentally sound farm management practices. The data will be collected and published in professional magazines and made available to industry stake holders. Results: Information gathered from the team’s research generated 19 scientific publications, abstracts, and presentations at national meetings, several popular press, tread magazine and social media articles. (See list below)

4. Development of a “user friendly” model to quantitatively evaluate pasture composition and canopy cover. Developments of a pasture condition scoring system to more accurately reflect conditions in equine pastures. Result: Development of the Equine Pasture Evaluation Disk and score sheet. Milestones and performance targets: 1. Cooperative Extension specialists and educators will develop the curriculum, teaching materials, and tools to evaluate pasture improvements, will train other educators, and will assume a leadership role in implementing and evaluating the program. A minimum of 20 Extension Agents, equine and agricultural agency and industry representatives in three states will participate in trainings and will be provided with the tools necessary to provide educational outreach opportunities and document impact. Results: The team offered 5 trainings for NRCS, Conservation District, DEP, Extension and agricultural industry personnel on understanding, selecting and implementing BMPs that are appropriate for the equine industry. Reached 205 professional. 2. In order to provide managers of equine operations in Pennsylvania and surrounding states with the knowledge and tools they need to adopt environmentally sound farm management practices, 400 farm managers will complete the Equine Environmental Stewardship short course and will develop a farm plan that includes at least two strategies to improve pasture and manure management practice. A minimum of 80% (288) of these managers, representing 10,656 acres, will implement two or more of the strategies identified in their farm plan. Result: 81% or 617 of workshop participants (total participants 762, representing 19,050 acres) reported adopting at least two BMPs strategies to improve conditions on their farm. Workshop participants reported that they planned to adopt the following BMPs strategies: 74% (n=564) planned to add additional paddocks, stress lots to reduce grazing pressure. 72% (n=548) planned to generate a forage, weed and toxic plant inventory for their farm. 72% (n=548) planned to renovate the pastures to introduce new varieties and thicken the stand. 86% (n=518) planned to apply nutrients based on soil test results. 66% (n=503) planned to develop a better manure storage facility. 80% (n=610) already contact or planned to contact agencies for assistance. 100% (n=762) Worked on their farm’s Manure Management Plan. 3. Web sites and on-line opportunities will be developed to provide educational opportunities for managers of equine operations that cannot attend a short course. Over 10,000 farm managers in the NE region will participate in on-line training opportunities with 30% (3,000) responding to a post program survey. Results: Penn State Extension Equine Web site (http://extension.psu.edu/animals/equine) and on-line opportunities (Newsletter, events, fact sheets, power points etc.) were developed to provide educational opportunities for managers of equine operations to supplement the workshops. In one year, 34,146 (July 1, 2012 to June 31, 2013), farm managers visited the on-line information and training opportunities. Site evaluation is still on going. 4. Twenty-eight equine operation managers will be selected to participate in a program designed to provide individual assistance and a multi-year plan to reduce nutrient inputs and /or improve pasture conditions and manure handling practices on the farm. Identified practices will be specific to the site conditions and management practices on each farm. The farm manager will be asked to participate in on-farm trials that may include: monitoring and reducing phosphorous levels in feed; handling, composting, storing and applying manure; incorporating rotational grazing paddocks and stress lots into turn-out regimes; utilizing new species of forages and ground covers; and developing new approaches to managing annual and perennial forages in pastures and heavy use areas. Results: The team worked with 40 equine farms directly collecting data and providing specific information related to their operations. Of these 40 farms, 14 operations were selected to serve as farm cooperators. The farms adopted the following BMP: • Development of heavy use areas/stress lots to reduce grazing pressure and increase canopy cover and pasture quality. N=12 • Implementation of rotational grazing plans. N=10 • Adoption of an intense rotational grazing program that involves constructing paddocks and moving horses on a weekly/daily basis. N=1 • Renovating pastures based on a management plan which provides weed control, fertilization and overseeding recommendations. N=12 • Fencing stream corridors restricts horse access to streams. N=1 • Managing water flow on heavy use areas by constructing bioswales. N=2 • Ration evaluation and modification to reduce excess nutrients in manure. N=14 Of the 28 equine operations that participate as cooperators, 100% (28 farms, representing 1,036 acres) will implement at least two identified practices designed to reduce phosphorous levels in their feed and /or reduce soil and nutrient loss by increasing canopy cover within the pastures. 100% of the farmers that develop plans to improve pastures will show an improvement in canopy cover, forage quantity, and pasture conditions. Most literature reports the need for maintaining 70-75% vegetative cover in pastures. Below this level significant sediment loss can occur. A minimum of 10 of the 28 farms were selected for this project; based on the criteria that the pastures are overgrazed and have canopy covers that are determined to be less than 50%. The target for the 10 farms is to increase canopy cover to 70 to 80%. Results: Only 12 farm renovated pastures increased canopy cover on the farms. We found that most of the 40 farms just need help with a plan for their pastures to improve pasture stands and quality. Routine overfeeding of dietary protein and phosphorus results in significant nutrient losses in manure. Previous work (Harper & Swinker, 2009) shows equine ration’s protein levels averaged 62% and phosphorus 92% above the NRC (2007) requirements. If horse owners fed rations that met NRC requirements, this would result in reduced nutrient loads in watersheds throughout the state. The adoption of lower-nitrogen and phosphorus feeding practices for the 28 test farms (350 equine) is expected to result in reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus loading. Results: The 40 farm in this project, it was very difficult for horse owners to manage their horse’s rations. Most were using a commercially mix feed concentrate that could not be adjusted. Each individual horse was fed a specific diet arranged for that specific horse. One farm had 70 horse all on their own specific individual diet. Most of the farms fed hay by different weekly truck loads and they did not produce their own hay on the farm. All the hay was imported from off the farms often by different suppliers. The 14 demo horse farms were feeding equine rations with protein and phosphorus levels above the NRC (2007) requirements. Farms managers were shown the feed analysis results and advised on how to formulate rations. However, farm managers were unable to make major adjustments due to the above reasons.

Equine Environmental Stewardship Short Course

The Equine Team developed and offered 29 Environmental Stewardship short course, an educational series that provides 2 to 4 day of practical hands-on experiences that will help farm owners develop the knowledge and skills necessary to adopt environmentally sound farm management practices. Equine research is providing exciting new information that is generating many changes in recommendations in the management practices that have been in place for many years. The short course provides workshops that are designed to help horse owners and others involved in the industry. To date, 762 farm managers have completed the Equine Environmental Stewardship Short Courses offered in Northampton, Northampton, Chester, Montgomery, Columbia, York, Union, Columbia, Westmoreland, Armstrong, Beaver, York, Indiana, Warren, Dauphin, Centre, Leigh and Clinton Counties in Pennsylvania and Orange and Ulster County, NY. Over 3,200 additional farm/horse owners have attended individual workshops dealing with environmental stewardship and farm management issues; these programs were conducted through Horse Expos, clinics and Ag Progress Days conducted in the eastern United States. Penn State Extension Equine Web site (http://extension.psu.edu/animals/equine) and on-line opportunities (Newsletter, events, fact sheets, power points etc.) were developed to provide educational opportunities for managers of equine operations to supplement the workshops. In one year, 34,146 (July 1, 2012 to June 31, 2013), farm managers visited the on-line information and training opportunities. In addition: 30,111 Unique visitors (different not regular visitors visited). 3.53 Average # pages viewed/visit 8,087 visits from PA (23.7%) 7,112 visits from a mobile device (20.8%)

Development of the Equine Pasture Evaluation Disk to Document Pasture Quality

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. 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 provide accurate data. An arrow on the edge of the disc indicates the location that the data is to be collected. 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 can be evaluated. To date, 366 adults and 86 youth used the tools to evaluate their pastures with 91% stating that recording data made them more aware of pasture conditions. In addition, all of the participants that attended the Environmental Stewardship Educational Workshops received EPED and worksheets; and were assigned to evaluate their farm pastures. (See attached)

On-Farm Adoption of Best Management Practices

The team worked with 40 equine farms directly collecting data and providing specific information related to their operations. Of these 40 farms, 14 operations were selected to serve as farm cooperators. Fourteen farm owners/managers that completed the Environmental Stewardship short course were selected to participate in a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant project designed to help farm managers implement practices to increase the canopy cover and desirable forages in pastures, reduce nutrient and sediment loss from farms, and reduce the overfeeding of nutrients in the ration. Practices implemented on test farms included:

• Development of heavy use areas/stress lots to reduce grazing pressure and increase canopy cover and pasture quality. N=12

• Implementation of rotational grazing plans. N=10

• Adoption of an intense rotational grazing program that involves constructing paddocks and moving horses on a weekly/daily basis. N=1

• Renovating pastures based on a management plan which provides weed control, fertilization and overseeding recommendations. N=12

• Fencing stream corridors to restrict horse access to streams. N=2

• Managing water flow on heavy use areas by constructing bioswales. N=1 • Ration evaluation and modification to reduce excess nutrients in manure. N=14

Documenting Pasture and Nutrient Management Systems on Equine Operations:

The goals of this project were to document conservation and management practices already in place on equine operations and identify areas of concern and improvement. The research team finalized field farm survey instruments, quantitatively documented pasture plants and canopy cover, sampled feed, hay and soil, conducted nutrient management audits and documented conservation and farm management practices. Pasture data was collected using line point transect methodology. Data included percent canopy cover, percent basal stem cover, percent quality forage, percent bare ground, and percent herbaceous litter. All plant species were documented in the target area. Pasture Condition scores were also generated for all pastures on the farms using the Vermont pasture Condition score Sheet. Pasture Conditions: Total plant canopy cover on most of the project farms was adequate to prevent erosion and sediment loss. Results revealed that 11 of the farms had pastures with a plant canopy cover of over 90%. Seven farms had a canopy cover between 80 and 90%. One farm had a canopy cover of 75% and only one farm was below 70%. Although canopy cover was adequate, many pastures were poor quality with weeds making up a large percent of the canopy. Two of the farms had pastures that contained a dense population of desirable plants. Over 80% of the plants in the pastures supplied nutrition for the horses. Six of the farms had pastures that had a low to medium density of desirable plants with only 60-75% of the plants supplying nutrition. Eight of the farms had pastures with a low density of desirable plants with only 50-60% of the plants having forage value. Four of the farms had a very low density of desirable plants with less than 50% of the plants supplying nutrition for the horses. Soil Fertility: Soil tests revealed that 41% of the pastures were deficient in phosphorus and 60% needed potassium. However, 53% of the farms hauled manure (stockpiled and fresh) off-farm. An additional 27% spread fresh manure and only 7% composted manure. This data reveals the need for education and assistance in developing compost systems. Properly composted manure adds value to manure as a resource. It can be used on-farm, applied to pastures, used off-site, or sold. Lack of knowledge and time, and fear of spreading parasites, are the reasons most often cited as a barrier to composting.

PA Manure Management Workshops

On account of the new Pennsylvania state regulation, the team took this opportunity to reach horse farm managers with writing manure management plans. We began advertising the Equine Environmental Stewardship (EES) course as a Manure Management Plan workshop. This increased our participation to the program. Agency Assistance 1. The team prepared teaching materials that include PowerPoint presentations, fact sheets and worksheets which have been made available to DEP, extension, conservation district, NRCS, and industry personnel to assist them in helping horse farm managers complete their manure management plan. 2. The team offered 5 trainings for NRCS, Conservation District, DEP, and agricultural industry personnel on understanding, selecting and implementing BMPs that are appropriate for the equine industry. Manure Management Plan Writing Workshops The team offered 12 manure management plan writing sessions throughout Pennsylvania. The course has been designed to help teach owners of equine operations how to prepare a manure management plan for their farm and understand and implement conservation practices. A total of 184 farm managers completed manure management plans for their farms and generated farm maps, documented pasture conditions, evaluated environmental risks associated with their farm manure storage and animal concentration areas, and determined acceptable manure spreading rates. Introduction to Pennsylvania Manure and Nutrient Management Regulation. Farm managers of equine operations attended workshops presented on the impact of nutrients/sediments on water quality, assessing farm risks, and complying with regulations. 92% of those surveyed (N=110) could identify potential sources of contamination on farms. 85% reported a better understanding of the impact contaminants have on ground and surface water. 81% understood how to comply with regulations.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Sarah Crooke
  • Donna Foulk
  • Helene McKernan
  • Dr. Ann Swinker

Research

Materials and methods:
Educational Delivery Systems Used

The team incorporates a variety of methods to assist farm owners in making research-based decisions about the BMPs on farms. Several educational workshops were offered across the state focused on BMPs to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution and promote horse health. Workshop impacts are collected using pre, post and follow-up evaluations. Through demonstration farms, field days, websites, DVDs, workshops, seminars, newsletters, articles in the popular press articles, and other extension activities, BMPs and conservation practices were disseminated to equine managers at all levels, including online surveys. Project information is available publicly through the PSU DAS web site; http://extension.psu.edu/animals/equine and Equine Science Newsletter website. The team developed an extensive curriculum, trained other educators, and assumed a leadership role in implementing and evaluating these regional programs. Funding includes Northeast SARE Extension Grant. Tools used includes of PowerPoints for web-based methods for providing educational outreach, including websites and webinars, use of the national eXtension HorseQuest for program distribution, and Penn State University publications and resources.

Development of an Environmental Stewardship Curriculum and Outreach Program

Discussions with the farm owners/managers and agency personal identified the need for in-depth educational programming in order to develop the knowledge and skills needed to implement, evaluate, and modify conservation, manure, and pasture management practices on farms. To meet this need, the Environmental Stewardship short course was developed and offered throughout Pennsylvania. The short course is a four-part educational series that promotes an understanding of the relationships between sustainable farm management practices, soil health, pasture quality, and reduction in nutrient and sediment loss from farms. The course provides practical, hands-on experiences in a class room setting and in the field. Equine Environmental Stewardship Course Curriculum – Power Points Designed to use with various clientele groups. Consists of a series of seven lessons: -Module 1: Grass is Always Greener Forage Biology & Grazing Management -Module 2: The Grass is Always Greener Forage Species and Renovations -Module 3: Pasture Soil Fertility Management -Module 4: Weed Management in Horse Pastures -Module 5: PA Horse Farms & Water Quality Regulations -Module 6: Horse Manure Compost the Renewable Source -Module 7: Basic Equine Nutrition

On-Farm Implementation of BMPs (farm manager cooperators)

Fourteen farm owner/managers that completed the Environmental Stewardship short course were selected to participate in the SARE grant project designed to help farm managers implement practices to increase the canopy cover and desirable forages in pastures, reduce nutrient and sediment loss from farms, and reduce the overfeeding of nutrients in the ration. The cooperators implemented at least two identified practices designed to reduce phosphorous levels in their feed and /or reduce soil and nutrient loss by increasing canopy cover within the pastures. The farms were selected for this project based on the criteria that the pastures were overgrazed and have canopy covers that are less than 50%. The target for the 10 farms was to increase canopy cover to 70 to 80% which will reduce sediment loss by over 1 ton per acre, per year. Pastures that were renovated were fertilized based on Penn State soil test recommendations. To reduce competition from weeds, all pastures were seeded in late summer or early fall. If perennial weed pressure was high, weeds were suppressed using a Round-up application. On pastures where erosion was a concern and or weed pressure was primarily cause by summer annual weeds, no herbicide was used. Establish of a thick stand of grasses was sufficient to control emerging annual weeds. Pastures were seeded using varying methods including no-till drills and minimal tillage using discs and aerators and harrows. Seed mixtures were customized for each farm based on soil and site conditions.

Easy to Use Pasture Evaluation Disc (EPED

To meet the need for an efficient and accurate method of evaluating canopy cover and document plant species on horse farms, the Penn State Equine Team developed the Equine Pasture Evaluation Disc (EPED. The EPED is easy to use and provides accurate, random information from the entire pasture, the Equine Pasture Evaluation Disc (20 cm plastic flat spear) was developed to identify data collection points. The EPED is randomly tossed throughout the entire pattern by walking a W pattern. 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. To test the accuracy of the EPED in quantitatively documenting pasture canopy cover and quality, pastures on three farms were surveyed using both line point intercept and EPED methods to determine if the EPED is an acceptable method of assessing and monitoring equine pastures. Pastures on the test farms, ranging between 0.4 and 4.05 ha in size, were evaluated using both methods. Two 30.5 m single transects were randomly placed in each pasture. Grasses, legumes and weeds were recorded at 60.9 cm intervals. The EPED was tossed 100 times by walking a “w” pattern, covering the entire pasture. Pasture conditions that intercepted the point of the arrow on the disc were recorded. All data points were recorded using an Excel spread sheet; and analyzed. The EPED and line transect methods for determining quantitative canopy cover statistically was similar. Statistically, 20 tosses were as accurate as 50 tosses as long as evaluated pastures are less than 4 ha in size. A caution is with fewer tosses there may be more variability when specific values are low. Both the Line Intercept and EPED method provide valid quantitative data that can be used as a basis to determine plant canopy cover at the point in time that the data is collected. (See attached poster)

Research results and discussion:
Environmental Stewardship Farm Partners

Fourteen farmers that completed the Penn State Environmental Stewardship short course were selected to participate in a project designed to implement practices to increase canopy cover and desirable forages in pastures and reduce nutrient and sediment loss from farms. Extension education and project team members provided individual assistance to help farm owners located resources, technical assistance and funding for identified practices. Twelve farms constructed sacrifice lots to reduce grazing pressure on pastures; ten farms increased pasture rotation. One farm utilized an intensive rotational grazing system, moving horses on a 2 – 5 day schedule. Twelve farms followed a detailed management plan developed for their farm which provided weed control, fertilization and overseeding recommendations. Two farms adopted specific conservation practices by fencing stream corridors and constructing bioswales to intercept water from heavy use areas. Four participants completed pasture renovation projects. Before renovation, pasture canopy covers ranged from 25% to 65% with 10% to 35% of the canopy composed of desirable forage. (Figure 1 and Figure 2) Three of the four renovated pastures produced canopy covers of over 98% with desirable plant populations exceeding 88%. (Figures 3 and 4). The seeding on the fourth farm failed due to heavy flooding caused by two tropical systems. Highlighted on the web site are the Environmental Stewardship Farm Partners (http://extension.psu.edu/animals/equine) To see each farm’s progress and improvement, go on line or see the attachments to this section below. The Penn State Equine Team is proud to feature the few select farms as on-farm partners in the Penn State Environmental Stewardship Program. Farm owners had to be willing to have their management practices posted to the PSU and SARE web sites. The farm owners are committed to adopting practices that maintain healthy horses, healthy farms, and a healthy environment. Each of the farms listed worked with the Extension Equine Team to select and implement one or more Best Management Practices (BMPs) on their farm. BMP’s were chosen to increase pasture canopy cover and improve pasture quality by increasing perennial grasses and desirable forages. Practicing rotational grazing, utilizing sacrifice areas, soil testing and applying lime and fertilizers are BMPs farmers were encouraged to adopt. Farms that decided to reseed pastures were provided with a seed mix that was custom blended for their farm based on soil conditions, farm management, pasture needs and level of use. Farmers shared their own experience and told why they chose the BMPs, challenges they faced, and how they made it work. (See example farms listings, attached).

The farms were representative of the industry and maintained stocking densities of 5 to 70 horses. None of the surveyed horse farms used intensive, rotational grazing systems; 2 (10%)of the farms were heavily over stocked and grazed pastures 24 hours a day, seven days a week; 80% of the farms restricted the horse’s grazing times to 1 to 12 hours per day; only 3 (15%) of the farms rested pastures for 2 weeks before re-grazing. Pastures were evaluated on 20 horse farms in the study using both line intercept and pasture condition scoring methodology. 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%. In this study, 19 of the 20 farms (95%) had a plant canopy cover greater than 70%; 11 of the 20 farms (55%) had a plant canopy cover of over 90%; 7 farms (35%) had a canopy cover between 80 and 90%; 1 farm had a canopy cover of 75% and only 1 farm was below the 70% threshold with a plant canopy cover of 53%. Although a high canopy cover is very important in preventing erosion and sediment loss, canopy cover does not always correlate with high quality pastures. This study revealed that only two (10%) of the farms had pastures that contained a dense population of desirable plants. Desirable plants in the pastures sampled on the two farms were over 80%. Six (30%) of the farms had pastures that had a medium density of desirable plants with only 60-75% of the pasture being composed of desirable plants. Eight (40%) of the farms had pastures with a low density of desirable plants with only 50-60% of the pasture having nutritional value. Four (20%) of the farms had a very low density of desirable plants with less than 50% of the pasture supplying nutrition for the horses. See above attached. See Table 1. The line intercept method provides valid quantitative data that can be used as a basis to determine plant canopy cover at the point in time that the data was collected. If all plants are used to determine plant canopy cover there may be some variation in nutrient update and prevention of soil loss based on the type and growth pattern of the weeds and forage present. The line intercept method also does not account for reduced number of annual grasses and weeds in late fall, winter and early spring. These plants may contribute significantly to the uptake of nutrients and prevention of sediment loss during the growing season but may leave a large void in intensively grazed pastures when they are absent. Calculating plant canopy cover using only desirable plants in the equitation will provide a better indicator of pasture quality. Using all plants to determine canopy cover does not always accurately reflect pasture quality. Based on the high stocking densities, intensity of use and lack of adopted practices to rest and rotate pastures on the farms in the study, the sampled pastures had a better than anticipated canopy cover. However, when only the % desirable plants in the pastures was used to calculate canopy cover, half of the sampled pastures had canopy covers less than 60%. Weeds are very opportunistic and efficiently fill in bare spots in pastures, and may contribute greatly to canopy cover in overgrazed pastures. Ironically, weeds can serve a valuable role in absorbing nutrients and preventing erosion. Considerations to eliminate weeds should always be combined with plans to incorporate quality forage into the pasture to provide plants that can provide nutrition, increase canopy cover and prevent soil and nutrient loss. Pasture condition scores were recorded on sampled pastures by using the Vermont NRCS pasture condition scoring system. Pasture condition scores ranged from 5 to 40. Pastures on eight farms ranked very good, seven farms scored in the good category, four sampled pastures were poor and one was very poor. Pasture condition scoring can be a valuable tool when assessing pasture quality. Although assigning pasture conditions scores to pastures is somewhat subjective, the factors evaluated provide a better picture of pasture quality when used in conjunction with quantitative methodology. Calculating plant canopy provides data on the number of plants present but does not take into consideration plant height and health. Because pasture condition scoring evaluates pastures numerically based on plant vigor, density, diversity, % legumes, soil erosion, and intensity and uniformity of grazing, pasture condition scoring provides a fairly accurate picture of pasture quality.

Conducted 29 Equine Environmental Stewardship Short Courses

To date, 762 farm managers have completed the Equine Environmental Stewardship Short Courses offered in Northampton, Northampton, Chester, Montgomery, Columbia, York, Union, Columbia, Westmoreland, Armstrong, Beaver, York, Indiana, Warren, Dauphin, Centre, Leigh and Clinton Counties in Pennsylvania and Orange and Ulster County, NY. Over 3,200 additional farm/horse owners have attended individual workshops dealing with environmental stewardship and farm management issues; these programs were conducted through Horse Expos, clinics and Ag Progress Days conducted in the eastern United States. As a result of completing the EES short course: 90% to 100 % of the participants indicated that they had a large increase in knowledge about: forage biology and growth; how to renovate pastures; how to identify forage species; how to properly store and utilize manure; how nutrients effect plant growth; how to apply nutrients based on a soil test report; the importance of identifying weeds in pastures. Participants planned to adopt the following strategies:

  • 74% planned to add additional paddocks and/or stress lots to reduce grazing pressure.
  • 72% planned to generate a forage, weed and toxic plant inventory for their farm.
  • 72% planned to renovate the pastures to introduce new varieties and thicken the stand.
  • 66% planned to have a nutrient management plan developed for their farm.
  • 86% planned to apply nutrients based on soil test results.
  • 66 % planned to develop a proper manure storage facility.
  • 80% already contact or planned to contact Cooperative Extension for assistance.

*Web site (http://extension.psu.edu/animals/equine) and on-line opportunities (Newsletter, events, fact sheets, power points etc.) were developed to provide educational opportunities for managers of equine operations to supplement the workshops. In one year, 34,146 (July 1, 2012 to June 31, 2013), farm managers visited the on-line information and training opportunities. In addition: 30,111 Unique visitors (different not regular visitors visited). 3.53 Average # pages viewed/visit 8,087 visits from PA (23.7%) 7,112 visits from a mobile device (20.8%)

Conducted an Equine Population (State-wide) Survey t of the Equine Industry’s BMPs

Conducted an equine population (state-wide) survey to access the use of the equine industry’s BMPs in manure handling, pasture management, erosion control and examine any potential environmental impacts.

  • Quantified horse farm’s nutrient management practices for Pennsylvania and nearby states through an on line survey questionnaire (2,363 addresses) and analyzing the results of 373 horse farms.
  • Only 13% of operations reported having an Agricultural Erosion and Sedimentation Plan or current Conservation Plan; 22.7% reported having a Nutrient Management Plan. Nearly all respondents (93%) reported having some pasture and nutrient management questions. Participants indicated that their primary limitations to altering current management practices was finances (75%), knowledge (37.5%), regulations (13.7), and an inability to obtain services (11.7%). (See the attached http://www.nacaa.com/journal (2013) publication for survey results). This data shows that many horse farms are utilizing BMPs to help reduce environmental impact. However, more educational programming and cost share funding is needed to target specific BMPs under utilized by the equine industry.
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:
Publications including peer reviewed journal articles, abstracts proceedings and popular press

Rebecca C.B., Greene, B.A., Koch, K., Martinson, K.L., Siciliano, Williams, C.A., Trottier, N. ,Burk, A., Swinker, A.M. Production and environmental implications of equine grazing Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 2013. Swinker, A., Worobey, S., McKernan, H., Kniffen, D., Foulk, D, Schneider , F., and Brubaker, M., May 2013. Profile of Pennsylvania equine industry’s environmental impact and best management practices. J. of NACAA, 6 (1), June 1, 2013. http://www.nacaa.com/journal Greene, E.A., C. Giguere, R.C. Bott, K.L. Martinson, and A. Swinker. Vermont Horses vs. Twisted Tomatoes: A Case Study. J. of NACAA, 6 (1), June 1, 2013. http://www.nacaa.com/journal Westendorf, M. L., C. Williams, A. O. Burk, N. Trottier, K. Martinson, P. D. Siciliano, A. M. Swinker, E. A. Elizabeth A. Greene and R. Bott. Environmental impacts of equine operations: a U.S. Department of Agriculture multistate project, J. Eq. Vet. Sci. 32:6, 324-326, 2012. Abstracts and Proceedings: Swinker A.M, DA Foulk, S Crooke, H McKernan, S Truax, s. B. Parry and M Brubaker, Adoption of best management practices on equine operations using an Equine Environmental Stewardship Program. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 33, 5(2013)377-378. Swinker A.M, DA Foulk, S Crooke, H McKernan, S Truax, s. B. Parry and M Brubaker, Environmentally Friendly Farm Program recognizes Pennsylvania farms that adopt sound management practices protecting water quality and the environment, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 33, 5(2013)378-379. Swinker, A.M., C.A. Williams, K. Anderson, C. Skelly, A.O. Burk, M. Westendorf. Nutrient Management Regulations and the Equine Industry, Proceedings, Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions, Published March 22, 2013, http://www.extension.org/pages/67710/nutrient-management-regulations-and-the-equine-industry Williams, C., A. Swinker, K. Anderson, C. Skelly, A.O. Burk, M. Westendorf. Currently Used Manure Management Practices of Equine Operations, Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions, Published March 25, 2013 http://www.extension.org/pages/67737/currently-used-manure-management-practices-of-equine-operations Swinker, A., Worobey, S., McKernan, H., Kniffen, D., Foulk, D, Schneider , F., and Brubaker, M., March 2013. Profile of the equine industry’s grazing best management practices in Pennsylvania. 5th National Conference on Grazing Lands, GLCI. 334. McKernan, H. A. and Swinker A. M., March 2013.Involving Youth in Livestock and Horses in Environmental Stewardship Projects, 5th National Conference on Grazing Lands, GLCI.335. Foulk, D., Swinker,A.,Kadwill1, N.,McKernan1,H.,Truax,T., Brubaker, M., Schneider, F. March 2013.Equine Environmental Stewardship: A Comprehensive Approach to Enhancing Adoption of Best Management Practices on Equine Operations, 5th National Conference on Grazing Lands, GLCI. 336. Westendorf M. L., C. Williams, A. O. Burk, N. Trottier, K. Martinson, P. D. Siciliano, A. M. Swinker, E. A. Elizabeth A. Greene and R. Bott. (2012). Environmental impacts of equine operations: a U.S. Department of Agriculture multistate project, J. Eq. Vet. Sci. 32:6, 324-326. Swinker, A., Worobey, S., McKernan, H., D., Foulk, D, Schneider , F., and Brubaker, M., 2012. Profile of the equine industry grazing practices, 5th National Conference on Grazing Lands, Proceedings, GLCI. 334. McKernan, H. A. and Swinker A. M. 2012.Involving Youth in Livestock and Horses in Environmental Stewardship Projects, 5th National Conference on Grazing Lands, Proceedings, GLCI, 335. Foulk, D., Swinker,A.,Kadwill1, N.,McKernan1,H.,Truax,T., Brubaker, M., Schneider, F. 2012.Equine Environmental Stewardship: A Comprehensive Approach to Enhancing Adoption of Best Management Practices on Equine Operations, 5th National Conference on Grazing Lands, Proceedings, GLCI. 336. Swinker, A., Worobey, S., McKernan, H., Meinen, R., Kniffen, D., Foulk, D., Hall, M., Weld, W., Schneider , F., Burk, A., and Brubaker, M., 2011. Profile of the Equine Industry’s Environmental, Best Management Practices and Variations in Pennsylvania. J. Eq. Vet. Sci. Vol. 31:334-335. Foulk, D., Swinker, A., and Hall, M., 2011. Using an Equine Pasture Evaluation Disk (EPED) to Document Canopy Cover and Evaluate Pasture Improvement, J. Eq. Vet. Sci. 31:336-337. Swinker A.M., 2011. Update of Nutrient Management Regulations and the Equine Industry, Proceedings of the 9th Annual Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference, p.122-131. Swinker A.M., 2011. Update of Nutrient Management Regulations and the Southern Region’s Equine Industry, Proceedings of the Southern States Nutrition Conference, p.102-118. Developed of management tools: Development of the EPED, equine pasture evaluation disk and worksheet sheet, PA Equine Pasture Condition Score Sheet Equine Environmental Stewardship Course Curriculum – Power Points Designed to use with various clientele groups. Consists of a series of seven lessons: -Module 1: Grass is Always Greener Forage Biology & Grazing Management -Module 2: The Grass is Always Greener Forage Species and Renovations -Module 3: Pasture Soil Fertility Management -Module 4: Weed Management in Horse Pastures -Module 5: PA Horse Farms & Water Quality Regulations -Module 6: Horse Manure Compost the Renewable Source -Module 7: Basic Equine Nutrition Extension Pasture Fact sheets: Foulk, D., Penn State Extension Fact Sheet, Basic Pasture Management for Horses, 2013. Foulk, D., Penn State Extension Fact Sheet, White and Red Clover and Rhizoctonia, 2013. Foulk, D., Penn State Extension Fact Sheet, Alsite Clover Toxic to Horses, 2013. Foulk, D., Penn State Extension Fact Sheet, Kentucky Bluegrass Forage Species for Horses, 2013. Foulk, D., Penn State Extension Fact Sheet, Red Clover and Horses, 2013. *Web site and on-line opportunities (Newsletter, events, fact sheets, power points etc.) were developed to provide educational opportunities for managers of equine operations to supplement the workshops. In one year, 34,146 (July 1, 2012 to June 31, 2013), farm managers visited the on-line information and training opportunities. Equine Extension Web site, 34,000 visits per year. http://extension.psu.edu/animals/equine Facebook site for the Equine Extension program, Averages 425-1,510 visits/weeks. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Penn-State-Extension-Equine-Team/125730227491688

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

 

  • To date, 762 farm managers completed the Equine Environmental Stewardship short course and developed a farm plan that includes at least two strategies to improve pasture and manure management practice. 81% (617) of these managers, representing 19,050 acres, implemented two or more of the strategies identified in their farm plan. EES Workshop Participants reported that they plan to adopt the following strategies:
  • 74% (n=564) planned to add additional paddocks, stress lots to reduce grazing pressure.
  • 72% (n=548) planned to generate a forage, weed and toxic plant inventory for their farm.
  • 72% (n=548) planned to renovate the pastures to introduce new varieties and thicken the stand.
  • 86% (n=518) planned to apply nutrients based on soil test results.
  • 66% (n=503) planned to develop a better manure storage facility.
  • 80% (n=610) already contact or planned to contact agencies for assistance.
  • Conducted 29 face-to-face Equine Environmental Stewardship talks or meetings reaching 762 horse owners. Purchased 800 soil test kits and 100 manure test kits, distributed to and showed horse farm owners (program participants) how to soil test pastures and properly fertilize and utilize composted manure on pastures, to balance nutrients.
  • Help 3,200 horse farm mangers lean how to implement best-management practices so their operations have less of an impact on water quality. We conducted three years of “Environmental Stewardship Programs” at the World Horse Expos in Harrisburg, PA (reaching an attendance of 30,000-50,000/yr), and reached an additional 2,300/yr at the PA Ag Progress Days.
  • State Conference with the PA Horse Council that impacted 788 affiliate members. 80% of evaluated participants reported they will adopt at least two BMP strategies to improve conditions on their farm.
  • Help PA equine farms comply with the PA Manure Management Manual or Act 38 Nutrient Management Regulations through information transfer presented at regional meetings and in publications.
  • The synergy, created through this collaborative team effort, has help broaden the resident education, continuing education, and research programs of the Penn State Equine Science Program and NRCS equine educational effort so that these efforts can better support the needs of Pennsylvania’s growing equine industry.
  • Agency Assistance:
  • 1. The team prepared teaching materials which include PowerPoint presentations, fact sheets and worksheets which have been made available to DEP, extension , conservation district, NRCS, and industry personnel to assist them in helping horse farm managers complete their manure management plan.
  • 2. The team offered 5 trainings for NRCS, Conservation District, DEP, and agricultural industry personnel on understanding, selecting and implementing BMPs that are appropriate for the equine industry.
  • The equine team members have provided expertise and scientific technology for regulatory agencies PA DEP, PA State Conservation Commission, PA Farm Bureau, legislature and horse farm managers who would be unable to obtain current and timely information due to geographical restraints and financial limitations. The pasture results of the surveyed operations were used to develop a baseline for the percent vegetative cover (80%) and the pasture grass height, to help with total nutrient balances and acceptable levels for the Pennsylvania Manure Management Manual (PA DEP) guide which was released in the fall of 2011. And was used in PA Agronomy Guide animal body weight tables.
  • Educational courses and research are presented annually at Ag Progress Days, American Horse Council States Issue Forums, World Horse Expo, Equine Science Society and PA Forage and Grasslands Council Meetings. Team members have provided technical assistance to veterinarians, seed and feed industry dealers, municipal officials and agency representatives. Other states requested team members as speakers for national and state programs and events such as: Ohio’s Equine Affair, Delaware’s Ag Days, Cornell’s Horseman’s Forum, New York, Ag Experiment Station Project NE1041 – Environmental Impacts of Equine Operations, Vermont, 5th National Conference on Grazing Lands in Florida, American Horse Council States Issue Forums, Colorado.
  • Penn State Extension Equine Web site (http://extension.psu.edu/animals/equine) and on-line opportunities (Newsletter, events, fact sheets, power points etc.) were developed to provide educational opportunities for managers of equine operations to supplement the workshops. In one year, 34,146 (July 1, 2012 to June 31, 2013), farm managers visited the on-line information and training opportunities. In addition:
  • 30,111 Unique visitors(different not regular visitors visited).
  • 3.53 Average # pages viewed/visit
  • 8,087 visits from PA (23.7%)
  • 7,112 visits from a mobile device (20.8%)
Documenting Pasture and Nutrient Management Systems on Equine Operations

The team worked with 40 equine farms directly collecting data and providing specific information related to their operations. Of these 40 farms, 14 operations were selected to serve as farm cooperators. The goal of this project was to document conservation and management practices already in place on equine operations and identify areas of concern and improvement. The research team finalized field farm survey instruments, quantitatively documented pasture plants and canopy cover, sampled feed, hay and soil, conducted nutrient management audits and documented conservation and farm management practices. Pasture data was collected using line point transect methodology. Data included % canopy cover, % basal stem cover, % quality forage, % bare ground, and % herbaceous litter. All plant species were documented in the target area. Pasture Condition scores were also generated for all pastures on the farms using the Vermont pasture Condition score Sheet. Pasture Conditions: Total plant canopy cover on most of the project farms was adequate to prevent erosion and sediment loss. Results revealed that 11 of the farms had pastures with a plant canopy cover of over 90%. Seven farms had a canopy cover between 80 and 90%. One farm had a canopy cover of 75% and only one farm was below 70%. Although canopy cover was adequate, many pastures were poor quality with weeds making up a large per cent of the canopy. Two of the farms had pastures that contained a dense population of desirable plants. Over 80% of the plants in the pastures supplied nutrition for the horses. Six of the farms had pastures that had a low to medium density of desirable plants with only 60-75% of the plants supplying nutrition. Eight of the farms had pastures with a low density of desirable plants with only 50-60% of the plants having forage value. Four of the farms had a very low density of desirable plants with less than 50% of the plants supplying nutrition for the horses. Soil Fertility: Soil tests revealed that 41% of the pastures were deficient in phosphorus and 60% needed potassium. However, 53% of the farms hauled manure (stockpiled and fresh) off-farm. An additional 27% spread fresh manure and only 7% composted manure. This data reveals the need for education and assistance in developing compost systems. Properly composted manure adds value to manure as a resource. It can be used on-farm, applied to pastures, used off-site, or sold. Lack of knowledge and time, and fear of spreading parasites, are the reasons most often cited as a barrier to composting. Feed Ration Evaluations However, in the 40 farm in this project, it was very difficult for horse owners to manage their horse’s rations. Most were using a commercially mix feed concentrate that could not be adjusted. Each individual horse was fed a specific diet arranged for that specific horse. An example one farm had 70 horse all on their own specific individual diet. Many of the farms fed hay by different weekly truck loads and they did not produce their own hay on the farm. All the hay was imported. Again we found in this project, the horse farms (n=14) showed equine ration’s protein levels averaged and phosphorus above the NRC (2007) requirements. Farms were shown the analysis results and advised on how to formulate rations. However, farm managers were unable to make major adjustments due to the above reasons.

Manure Management Plans Workshop

Because of the new PA State Regulation the team took this opportunity to reach horse farm managers with writing Manure Management Plan. We began advertising the EES course as the Manure Management Plans workshop. This increased our participation to the program. In Pennsylvania and other states, there is increased emphasis on farm and nutrient management practices on equine operations due to expansion of environmental regulations. Of the 32,000 operations which house horses in Pennsylvania, 23,250 are non-commercial operations and over 75 percent are on limited acreage, requiring intensive management. Until recently, horse farm operations have not been eligible for cost-share funding in the past and have not been regulated directly. In 2008, concentrated equine operations with over 8 AEUS and over 2 AEUS per acre became regulated under the Pennsylvania Nutrient Management Act 38 and are required to have a certified nutrient management plan. However, operations with fewer than 8 AEUs frequently have fewer acres per animal unit and have the potential to pose a significant environmental risk. Recently approved DEP manure management regulations require all livestock owners to have a manure management plan. Agency Assistance 1. The team prepared teaching materials which include PowerPoint presentations, fact sheets and worksheets which have been made available to DEP, extension , conservation district, NRCS, and industry personnel to assist them in helping horse farm managers complete their manure management plan. 2. The team offered 5 trainings for NRCS, Conservation District, DEP, and agricultural industry personnel on understanding, selecting and implementing BMPs that are appropriate for the equine industry. Manure Management Plan Writing Workshops The team offered twelve manure management plan writing session throughout PA. The course has been designed to help teach owners of equine operations how to prepare a manure management plan for their farm and understand and implement conservation practices. A total of 184 farm managers completed manure management plans for their farms and generated farm maps, documented pasture conditions, evaluated environmental risks associated with their farm manure storage and animal concentration areas, and determined acceptable manure spreading rates. Introduction to PA Manure and Nutrient Management Regulation, farm managers of equine operations attended workshops presented on the impact of nutrients/sediments on water quality, assessing farm risks, and complying with regulations. 92% of those surveyed (N=110) could identify potential sources of contamination on farms. 85% reported a better understanding of the impact contaminants have on ground and surface water. 81% understood how to comply with regulations. 100% of the EES workshop participants (starting in fall 2012) were handed a PA Manure Management Manual and during the workshop started to fill it out with their farms information.

Economic Analysis

If the owners continue to use corrected feed rations, this results in a reduced nutrient loads in watersheds throughout the state. The adoption of lower-nitrogen and phosphorus feeding practices for the test farms (350 equine) is expected to result in reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus loading. This reduction of feed (8 -10 lbs. of grain/ concentrates @ $15/50lb bags, to 4-5 lbs. and increased forage) would save farms an average of $219 per horse/ year or $76,650 total. In addition, if the 32,000 (Pennsylvania’s total horse farms) horse operations (representing approximately 255,000 equine), implement feeding practices that meet requirements, collectively, the horse farms would save $55.8 million/yr.

Farmer Adoption

A comprehensive pasture management plan was developed for 14 farms in the project; Practices implemented on test farms included:

  • Development of heavy use areas/stress lots to reduce grazing pressure and increase canopy cover and pasture quality. N=12
  • Implementation of rotational grazing plans. N=10
  • Adoption of an intense rotational grazing program that involves constructing paddocks and moving horses on a weekly/ daily basis. N=1
  • Renovating pastures based on a management plan which provides weed control, fertilization and overseeding recommendations. N=12
  • Fencing stream corridors to restrict horse access to streams. N=1
  • Managing water flow on heavy use areas- constructing bioswales. N=1
  • Working on ration evaluation/modification to reduce excess nutrients in manure. N=14
Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Challenges to Horse Farm Operations on Pasture Canopy Cover: The most common problem, with canopy cover on most of the horse operations is that most of the canopy cover contained desirable forage grasses or legumes. The remaining plants consisted of weeds and most of the vegetation is perennial or annual plants, resulting in poor vegetative winter cover. Typical example of a horse farm (one of the project farms: Before renovation, the canopy cover of the pasture was 80%, which is acceptable to reduce erosion. However, only 50% of the canopy cover contained desirable forage grasses or legumes. The remaining 30% consisted of weeds. After reseeding the pasture, conditions improved significantly. The stand established quickly in fall and provided thick, dense vegetation in spring that required frequent mowing. The vegetated cover increased from 80% to 100% with 98% of the cover consisting of perennial plants that can provide erosion protection in winter and early spring. The concentration of forage that supplies nutrition for the horses increased form 50% to 94%. The stand of tall, healthy grasses and clover competed with the weed seedlings, reducing the weed population from 30% to 6%. The surveyed farms have helped to validate and evaluate existing tools on horse operations. However the “pasture sediment loss” tools used PA RUSLE2 may not report the specific situation on a farm like the example given above. There may need to be an adjustment in order to properly measure sediment and soil loses on horse farms. Generally horse operations have a high animal density, making it difficult to keep pastures lush and green. Removing horses from pasture and reducing grazing hours is not easy, however it is a necessary management decision to allow grasses to rest and regrow. Many of these farms did not have access to a No–Till drill or other planting equipment, but the farm successfully established pastures using equipment available on the farm. One example in the project: Prior to renovating, the pasture had only 25% vegetative growth, and the remaining 75% was bare ground. Only 10% of the pasture contained desirable forage. After renovating, there was a significant increase in vegetative growth. Canopy cover increased from 25% to 100% vegetation. Desirable forage increased from 10% to 78% after renovation. This data shows that many horse farms are utilizing BMPs to help reduce environmental impact. However, there are several areas, such as soil testing and the use of sacrifice loafing areas in pasture management, where educational programming and cost share funding is needed to target specific BMPs underutilized by the equine industry. Precision feeding of nutrients in the horse industry: Routine overfeeding of dietary protein and phosphorus results in significant nutrient losses in manure. Previous work by this team (Harper & Swinker, 2009) shows equine ration’s protein levels averaged 62% and phosphorus 92% above the NRC (2007) requirements. If horse owners fed rations that met NRC requirements this would result in reduced nutrient loads in watersheds throughout the U.S. The adoption of lower-nitrogen and phosphorus feeding practices for the participating farms is expected to result in reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus loading. However, in the 40 farm in this project, it was very difficult for horse owners to manage their horse’s rations. Most were using a commercially mix feed concentrate that could not be adjusted. Each individual horse was fed a specific diet arranged for that specific horse. One farm had 70 horse all on their own specific individual diet. Most of the farms fed hay by different weekly truck loads and they did not produce their own hay on the farm. All the hay was imported from off the farms often by different suppliers. The 14 demo horse farms were feeding equine rations with protein and phosphorus levels above the NRC (2007) requirements. Farms managers were shown the feed analysis results and advised on how to formulate rations. However, farm managers were unable to make major adjustments due to the above reasons. Youth and Family Programming: The youth, families and volunteer leaders that manage limited acreage need to be aware of government programs and sources of assistance. Participants involved in this project assess the environmental issues on their premises, promote and apply BMPs to improve air/water quality and strengthen the environment and community relationships. In a non-traditional classroom setting, this project provides education on environmental stewardship to youth involved in farm operations, while providing the participants the ability to problem solve and apply critical thinking to the issues affecting their farm operations

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.