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Grasses And Legumes Work Well for Horse Pastures


Horses are popular throughout the area. If planning a new horse pasture, be sure to plant the right things. Horses graze differently than other livestock. They heavily graze specific spots, and they are more picky about what they will eat.

Two grasses that are popular for horses are timothy and bluegrass. Unfortunately, these cool-season grasses produce low yields and lack persistence in Nebraska. A better choice for the area is a mixture of orchardgrass and smooth bromegrass. Add a little red clover, some white clover, and alfalfa to this mixture and you'll have an excellent feed resource. In western Nebraska, intermediate or crested or western wheatgrass might be a better choice of grass since they are more adapted to dry climates.

Native warm-season grasses also can provide good summer pastures for horses. Warm-season grasses that horses graze well include blue grama, big bluestem and sand bluestem, sideoats grama, sand lovegrass, and indiangrass. A mixture of three to five of these grasses will make good summer grazing.

Avoid switchgrass and little bluestem for horse pasture. Horses do not graze these grasses very well. However, both switchgrass and little bluestem are consumed well as hay if they are planted in mixtures with other grasses and harvested before seedheads emerge. So they can be used for horse hay even if they make poor horse pasture. 

By Bruce Anderson, UNL Forage Specialist