Home to more than 35,000 horses, Vermont has at least that many acres in horse pasture. Horse owners and equine operation managers are seeking information to guide their management of horse pasture, and this project set out to provide assistance, demonstrations, and resources.
Because horses need regular, or daily, turnout, they are often put on wet pastures that soon turn to mud. One or two pastures on a farm are usually sacrificed for turnout, becoming a “sacrifice” or “high traffic area”. The project team worked with a farmer partner to renovate a high traffic area as part of the farm’s pasture system. The farmer improved drainage by installing a buried perforated pipe to move water from low spots, and put down geotextile and gravel in an excavated area to allow rainfall and snowmelt infiltration for year round firm footing for the horses.
The project team developed a series of educational activities. Eight workshops were held around the state, supplemented by 5 television programs (Across the Fence, aired on WCAX-3 in Vermont, with an audience of more than 10,000 per show). Four presentations were given at the annual Everything Equine event. More 260 farmers and agricultural professionals attended these activities.
To share information and provide resources to guide on-farm work, the more than 260 participants in project activities received information packets. One farmer stated exuberantly, “This is the best resource packet I have ever received.” A site was also developed on the Pasture Program webpage to share materials and resources.
The project team created a full-color instructional publication to explore installation and use of a renovated high traffic area, and to provide more refined pasture management techniques. This publication has been distributed to more than 150 farmers, and remains in distribution. More than 250 packets and publications have been shared with agricultural professionals for farmers in NY, RI, CT, NJ, and MA.
Reaching more than 250 horse owners and equine operation managers directly, and many more online and through television programs, more than 90-94% of evaluation respondents have found the information shared to be very valuable. Three quarters of respondents stated they intend to make at least one change based on workshops and project materials. Anecdotal evidence shows this is a realistic outcome. The project team received follow-up calls from participants telling of 2 renovated high-traffic areas being installed. Nineteen of the 25 farmers receiving on-farm assistance made improvements during the project period. Fifteen began clipping weeds in an effort to reduce invasive species. Seven have resized paddocks, using new fence and/or temporary fence to limit horses’ access to already-grazed pasture. Fifteen have used soil test results to monitor soil quality and take appropriate steps, when recommended. With pasture acreage ranging from 5 to 25 acres, these nineteen farmers affected the management of more than 200 acres of pasture.
This project has had visible impact on equine pasture stewardship and management in Vermont and throughout the northeast. Horse owners and equine operation managers must meet a careful balance between the needs of horses and of pasture. It is clear from the responsive nature of the audience that more education and demonstration of techniques is needed to build on the practice adoption already underway. If and when more incentive-payment contracts for these practices are available to horse farmers through agencies such as USDA NRCS, there may be more widespread adoption.
Milestone 1: Renovations will be made to parts of high traffic areas in several paddocks on a boarding stable. One month. Achieved- as one larger high traffic area, with a different farmer than the one identified in the original proposal (see Appendices).
Milestone 2: Photographic records will demonstrate effects of changes in horse pasture management. Eighteen months. Achieved.
Milestone 3: A publication detailing water quality effects from renovated high traffic area will be prepared and distributed to more than 3,000 people, including attendees at Everything Equine Expo and the annual VT Grazing Conference. One month. Ongoing. Publication topic was adjusted to meet the needs expressed by audience. Delays in publication and family emergency slowed production, and higher printing costs reduced overall printing to 2000. More than 250 have been distributed, with 1500 to be distributed in January-April, 2010.
Milestone 4: Workshops will be held on 3 grazing horse farms. A total of 100 will attend the 3 workshops, of which 50 will be horse owners, 20 stable operators, and 30 agricultural professionals. Owners will be instructed on grazing plan development. Discussion will include creative solutions, including leasing and grazing unused pastures, night grazing, etc. Photographic evidence of renovated and non-renovated high traffic areas will be shared. Six months – overlap with Milestones 1 and 2. Exceeded: eight workshops were held around the state over the course of the project, as well as 4 presentations. More than 260 members of the target audience attended and participated.
Milestone 5: Follow-up visits will be made at least 25 horse farms. Six months. Achieved.
Milestone 6: A phone survey of attendees to the 3 workshops will be done to measure changes in pasture management and find out if any questions have arisen. One month. Achieved where phone numbers were provided, or done in follow-up visits/meetings with participants.
Performance target: More than 1,000 people will be reached through publications, publicity, mailings and workshops. Of 70 horse owners and stable operators attending workshops, more than half will make changes to pasture management resulting in improved forage quality and reduced environmental degradation. Twenty agricultural professionals will feel able to support horse owners’ pasture management needs. Achieved, as seen through evaluations and follow-up conversations with activity participants.