Recovery of Pasture Forage Production Following Winter Rest in Continuous and Rotational Horse Grazing Systems

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Winter rest is commonly recommended to aid in regrowth of spring forage in horse pastures. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of previous grazing method (continuous [CON] vs. rotational [ROT]) on recovery of pasture production following a period of winter grazing exclusion. Pasture forage yield, persistence, and quality were assessed monthly in two horse pastures, one CON and one ROT, from April to August 2017. Herbage mass was greater in ROT in May (ROT 2,701.8 ± 176.0; CON 1,439.0 ± 155.06 kg/ha; P = .0008), June (ROT 3,778 ± 21.59; CON 2,507.0 ± 274.7 kg/ha; P = .0007), and July (ROT 4,755.8 ± 263.1; CON 3,627.8 ± 318.66 kg/ha; P = .0053), while sward height only differed by grazing system in May (ROT 21.87 ± 0.68; CON 13.02 ± 0.68 cm; P < .0001). Overall, prevalence of planted grass species was greater in ROT (35.17 ± 2.47%) than CON (22.67 ± 0.92%; P = .0009). Furthermore, there was an association between pasture forage composition and grazing management system at all sample points other than in August (P < .05). In addition, sward components were most affected by previous grazing system in April and May, with a greater proportion of live leaf in ROT than CON (P < .03). These results demonstrated that even after prolonged rest, previous management of pasture influenced forage regrowth. Findings of this study support the implementation of ROT grazing practices as a means of optimizing long-term pasture production.HighlightsPrior grazing method (rotational [ROT] vs. continuous [CON]) affects spring pasture production.Previous ROT grazing resulted in greater herbage mass after winter rest.Prevalence of planted grasses increased in response to prior ROT management.CON management led to a lower proportion of live leaf the following April and May.Winter rest alone did not compensate for overgrazing of continuously grazed pasture.

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