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Horses and Cover Crops

 
Kitty Khimeros
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I'll soon be moving to an acre of land in New Brunswick and plan to have a couple of ponies. Current plan is to divide most of the land up into 1/8th acre rotating paddocks.

I know that this isn't enough land for my ponies to get anywhere near all of their food by grazing, but I do want them to at least get some. From what I can find out (haven't seen the land myself yet) the soil there is not good. Thin, poor, and acidic. I was planning to immediately start planting cover crops to improve pasture. However, when I checked a list of plants that are poisonous to horses against my list of possible cover crops.. almost ALL of them are listed as toxic to horses. Including mustard, rye grass, clovers and vetch...

I know there's only so much I can learn by "book learning" and I'm hoping to get some practical advice from people who keep horses as to whether it's true that all of these things are toxic, or if you have any other recommendation for cover crops that are safe for livestock to graze on? I plan to follow the horses with chickens as they move around the property.
 
Jack Edmondson
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Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Kitty,

Would you share your resource on plants poisonous to horses? I think you might want to confirm from a few different sources before making a final decision. For example, clover is fine for horses they eat it all the time in the field. However, as a hay, if not dried properly mold can grow and that is bad for horses. Also the rye grass itself is not the problem, but a toxin that is produced by a fungi that can grow in the grass. Too much can cause the staggers. In your temperatures, I am not sure if fungus would be such a problem. But there are also strains that are free of the problem.

Ryegrass can be infected with endophyte fungus. The toxins the fungus produces causes nerve and muscles disorders. Symptoms of poisoning are staggering, stiffness, swaying back and forth when standing still, muscle twitching, excessive salivation, teeth grinding and convulsions.

Ryegrass varieties that are used in lawns must not be used in pastures – these seeds are not endophyte free. Ryegrass varieties developed for pasture and hay should be labeled endophyte free.


Alfalfa should work. As would cow peas (both legumes).

There is a lot of misinformation and half truths in the horse world. Verify your sources carefully before a final decision.
 
Kitty Khimeros
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One of the lists I was looking at is here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_plants_poisonous_to_equines

Some of them do list caveats like not using in hay, however when looking at sites offering cover crop seeds for sale today, a couple of them noted not to use red clover or sweet clover anywhere that is planned for use for horse pasture. There were similar notes for mustard and sorghum.

I distinctly remember sweet clover being a favourite of the horses I was around when I was young, though...

The problem is that just by reading websites, I have no way to confirm or deny which list is accurate and which list is not. That's why I'd like some advice from people who actually own horses and have experience with these plants It is frustrating because there is such a tendency for people to start yelling "I'M SUING!" every time something goes wrong that people are now posting warnings on EVERYTHING, even if the chances of anything going wrong are slight. I mean if you buy a fake firelog from the store now, it has a "warning, flammable" label on it.... *eyeroll*
 
Kitty Khimeros
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I guess another point would be that as I'll be using these paddocks for grazing, they are seldom or never going to be allowed to grow to seeding stage before I either chop them down or the animals graze them down. So would that mean that rye grass would be ok? It's one of the most recommended for improving the kind of soil I'll be dealing with.

The other issue I'm having is finding organic seeds for cover crops. Not having much luck there.
 
Jack Edmondson
Posts: 233
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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One source of organic cover crop seed. I will see if I can dig up others from my bookmarks.

http://www.highmowingseeds.com/organic-non-gmo-cover-crop-seeds.html

I think ultimately, the best bet would be to discuss with your vet, or call the county extension agent where the land is located and express your concern. The agent and the vet will have access to real data performed with sound science out of a university. A fifteen minute chat with your vet the next time your horse is wormed or teeth floated would be money well spent. The county agent should be 'fee free'; but I am not sure how it works in Canada.
 
Kitty Khimeros
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I am in Canada, and I do not think American companies will ship seed to Canada but I'll check it out.

Unfortunately we don't seem to have this "extension" service here. I keep reading about all the useful things offered by "extension" offices but I have tried searching for them for my province and can't find anything. Perhaps there is an equivalent that I don't know the term for...
 
Jack Edmondson
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Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Another note real quick about rye grass. There seems to be evidence that it takes a large amount of the toxin over time to really effect the motor skills and nervous system of a horse. In limited quantities, it does not seem cause a serious effect. I would not recommend a 'single' grass anyway. What Joel Salitan coined "salad bar" diet makes the most sense to me. Plant as many native grasses and as many different seeds as possible. Make your own mix. Give the soil and your horses a balanced diet. Vetch and Rye as part of a mix is not bad for horses. A steady diet of only one thing can be enough to make any digestive system unhappy, man or beast.

Here is a pamphlet from the Minnesota Ag Extension on growing horse pasture specifically. It should be a similar growing climate.

http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/pasture/docs/common-pasture-grasses-and-legumes.pdf

 
Jack Edmondson
Posts: 233
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Kitty Khimeros
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Joel Salatin is my hero And yes that's exactly what I wanted to go for, a mix of a lot of different plants. That's why I was so annoyed when I looked them all up and found lists listing them as poisonous to horses! Pretty much everything from red clover to vetch to mustard to rye and fescue grass... I will check out the links, thanks very much!
 
Josey Hains
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Location: AB, Canada, Zone 3
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Careful with alfalfa and other legumes. Too much is not good. Your ponies might founder.
 
Kitty Khimeros
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I was worried about that at first too, but on a horse forum I was advised that on 1/8 acre paddocks there was no chance of them getting enough fodder for it to be a problem? These will be large ponies that an adult can ride, not little minis.
 
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