How much land is required to sustain two horses?
In the Northeast, recommended stocking rates for pasture range from 0.7 to 1.2 acres/horse. You must supplement with hay during periods of snow cover or when feed is not available. However, this recommendation can vary based on other factors described below. Some horses can get nearly their total daily nutritional requirements from grazing in a pasture. If you plan on using a pasture as the total ration for the horses, you must consider several variables:
• Is there enough pasture to meet the needs of the animal?
• Are you in a part of the country that receives limited rainfall? If so, is your pasture irrigated?
• What species of grasses are in the pasture?
• What is the soil depth and type?
• Does the horse receive supplemental hay or grain in addition to the pasture?
Calculating Stocking Rates for Horses
Generally, a horse weighing 1,000 pounds consumes 600 pounds of dry matter forage each month. Average pastures will produce 2 to 3 tons of forage per acre over a season depending on rainfall, soil type, and species of plants. In high rainfall areas of the country (or irrigated pastures), you should graze your pasture down to 3 to 4 inches before removing your horses.
As previously outlined, the 1,000-pound horse will require 600 pounds of forage per month. This will calculate to 7,200 pounds of needed forage per year (600 lb/mo x 12 mo). Depending on the productivity of the pasture land, supplemental feeding may be required. Limiting grazing to several hours per day combined with supplemental feeding on smaller acreages will extend the length of the grazing seasons. Horses will need to be housed in a box stall or a dry lot for the period of time they are not on pasture.
Continuous grazing on pastures of limited acreages may require a recovery period of no grazing to maintain forage health and vigor. During periods of snow cover and when no forage is available, supplemental hay must be provided.
Pastures that receive adequate moisture will produce more forage than during dry periods. Therefore, less acreage is needed to meet the grazing needs of the horse. Again, the soil type, species of plants, amount of water, fertilization, and management are factors that can increase pasture production yields as high as 3 to 5 tons per acre. Only a portion of the total yield produced will be eaten by the horse. Grass that is trampled and defecated on will not be consumed. Also, a certain amount of residue must be left to maintain good-quality regrowth. You must manage your pasture as a crop. Each year fertilize according to the recommendation of a soil test. Drag manure, clip weeds, and monitor the pasture for over- and under-grazing. Contact your county Cooperative Extension agent for information on soil testing and management.
(This answer is appropriate for areas of the country that have adequate rainfall or that are on irrigated pastures.)