Keeping horses on small properties

Page last updated: Monday, 3 December 2018 - 12:09pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

What does DSE mean?

DSE is a stocking rate system related to ‘dry sheep equivalents’ or how many dry (non-lactating) sheep can be kept year round on the land without soil degradation, weight loss and with only minimum handfeeding.

As a landowner, it is advisable to understand DSEs.

It has been calculated that:

1 light horse = 10 dry sheep

1 pony = 5 dry sheep

1 draught horse = 20 dry sheep

Example dry sheep equivalent (DSE) calculation

Let’s say you have 8 hectares (ha) of land rated at 8DSE/ha.

To calculate how many horses you can run consider the following:

  • area of property = 8ha
  • minus area of bush/buildings = 2ha
  • area available for pasture = 6ha
  • area with restricted access for six months = 2ha (4 DSE/ha)
  • area with all year access = 4ha (rated at 8DSE/ha).

With this information you can calculate the stocking rate as:

Total = (2ha x 4DSE) + (4ha x 8DSE) = 40 DSE

Therefore the area is sufficient for four light horses or two draught horses (based on the DSE ratios listed above).

Such figures provide only a general guide and careful observation is still required to ensure paddocks are not degraded.

Soil and pasture management

The aim is to have a pasture that is nutritional for horses and is hard wearing. With quality pasture and savvy grazing management, groundcover can be kept to at least 70% which will ensure erosion and weed infestations are minimised.

Grazing management is a real skill. Good managers ensure:

  • paddocks are fertilised correctly
  • pastures are not eaten down too far
  • weeds and insects are monitored and controlled
  • only adequate feed is available in spring to avoid founder
  • the most appropriate grasses and legumes are sown
  • soil pH (acidity) is managed.

Horse ownership can be a rewarding experience and one of the most enjoyable parts of living on the land. However, the welfare of your horses and the preservation of your land need to be your top priorities. By following the information outlined, you will be well on your way to responsible horse husbandry.