By LuAnn McLain
We all want to maintain what's best about Montana's agricultural land, wildlife, clear streams, native plants, and healthy forests. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation provides a wealth of information to landowners regarding land and water management.
"Tips on Land and Water Management for Small Farms and Ranches in Montana," is a booklet full of useful information for those who must make the best of the land. One positive aspect of effective pasture management of interest to me is the resulting better health of the animals living on that pasture.
Of particular interest is the information that addresses horses. The booklet provides the horse owner, as well as prospective horse owners, with invaluable information on horses and their needs and relationship to pastures.
Jeff Mosely of Montana State University's extension office has worked with many ranchette owners in Montana who have horses or are planning to acquire them. He has found that most people who consult with him greatly over-estimate the ability of their land to feed their animals.
Horses have a need for a greater amount of feed per pound of body weight than cows and other ruminants. For this reason, people are more likely to underestimate for the needs of their horses.
In order to assist people in assessing the land and to figure the amount of feed needed, there are some formulas available. These formulas take into account things like soil and moisture conditions and type and quality of ground cover.
Using these formulas allows one to estimate how many animals can be supported by the forage available and for how long. It can be a shock to discover the 10 acres one planned to have four horses on can only feed that many horses realistically for about a week!
There are ways to manage pasture to greatly enhance its ability to produce good forage. The booklet addresses this issue in a clear and concise manner.
Some information taken from just one page follows: Pastures in poor condition can cause colic and respiratory problems from eating dirt, weight loss, parasites and a poor coat. Over-grazing occurs when more than 50 percent of the grass plant is removed all at once. Overgrazing stops root growth and reduces grass production.
Some of the tips for a successful grazing program are listed as follows: Eliminate continuous season-long grazing, subdivide large pastures into smaller pastures and develop a pasture-rotation grazing system. (Some sample grazing designs are illustrated).
It is suggested that one corral the livestock and feed them hay until the pasture grasses are 6" to 8" high. Move livestock when 50 percent of the grass plant has been eaten (3" to 4" height remains). Do not regraze until grasses are at least 6" high, which could take 1 to 3 months.
Horses do not need 24-hour access to feed or forage. Their nutritional needs can be met with only a few hours of grazing on good pasture each day. Corral animals for the remainder of the day to prevent overgrazing of plants and extend the forage available in your pastures.
On limited acreage, you may have only enough pasture to exercise your animals and will need to feed year-round.
The booklet has a lot of information on topics such as stockwater, fencing, noxious weeds, etc., with many photos and illustrations. To request copies contact: The Conservation Districts Bureau, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, P.O. box 201601, Helena, MT 59620-1601, (406) 444-6667.
Resource people are available for consultation as well as for anyone wanting more information on these and related topics. Contact the local Extension office (in Havre 265-5481) or the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation at the Helena number listed above and ask for Dave Martin. The local office of the Conservation District can also be a resource. If they cannot help you with a specific situation, they can direct you to the people who can.
Jeff Mosely, of MSU Extension out of Bozeman, will be presenting a workshop during the Cabin Fever workshops this winter at MSU Northern.
Have a great Montana week with your cherished critter companions. If you would like to write to Pawsitively Pets, please send your letter to P.O. Box 1731, Havre, MT 59501.