Keeping horses on small properties

Page last updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2023 - 8:06am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Many small landholders with horses are often interested in knowing how they can best manage their property in a way that reduces impacts, yet maximises the benefits and their enjoyment.

If land is used beyond its capability it becomes degraded and this can have economic, social and legislative consequences.

When deciding to own horses you must consider paddock, pasture and manure management, stocking rates, weeds and livestock identification and movement.

Keys to successful land management

As a horse manager or owner, the keys to successful land management include determining the most appropriate stocking rate for your property and developing integrated weed control and manure management strategies.

As a horse owner you should develop a property plan which reflects your overall vision for the property and select an approved horse management system, such as:

  • low input (extensive grazing)
  • medium input (horses grazing as well as stabled at times)
  • high input (horses stabled and hand fed).

You need to determine the appropriate stocking rate for your property and follow an effective pasture management program, which includes:

  • graze paddocks in rotation (graze at 12cm, rest at 5cm)
  • soil test to determine lime and fertiliser requirements
  • manage lush spring pasture growth by slashing, hay cutting or grazing with other livestock
  • maintain 70% groundcover at all times (minimum height 3cm)
  • seek advice on suitable pasture mixes, management and renovation.

You also need to develop an integrated weed control strategy:

  • eradicate toxic weeds (such as Paterson’s curse and cape tulip)
  • eliminate problem weeds
  • maintain soil fertility
  • graze paddocks in rotation
  • improve pastures
  • use selective sprays
  • control weeds entering the property (check hay for weed seeds and find out if it has been tested for annual rye grass toxicity (ARGT))
  • quarantine new horses for three days to prevent weed seeds spreading — this will also reduce the risk of exposing your animals to any disease the new addition might be carrying
  • avoid grazing areas bare which encourages weeds.

An integrated manure management strategy should also be developed, which may include:

  • collecting and selling manure
  • harrowing manure in paddocks
  • encouraging dung beetles by limiting harmful sprays.

Tips to remember include:

  • Hand feed hay only on compacted rubble or grassed areas — not on sand.
  • Vary feeding spots to reduce overgrazing and muddy areas.
  • Consider electric fencing to protect overgrazed and muddy areas from further damage.
  • Continuously set-grazing small paddocks is a recipe for environmental and equine health problems.