A sacrifice area is a small enclosure often called a corral, run, pen, turnout or winter paddock. It is meant to be your horse's outdoor living quarters. We call it a sacrifice area because you are giving up the use of that small portion of land as a grassy area to the benefit the rest of your pasture. Your horse(s) should be confined to the sacrifice area during the winter and early spring when pasture plants are dormant and/or soils are super wet.  During summer months utilize your sacrifice area so pastures don’t become overgrazed. A sacrifice area is also useful for separating or confining animals, for controlling the amount of grass or feed your horse consumes on a daily basis and for caring for sick or injured individuals.

Sand paddock horse sacrifice area

A sacrifice area is a small enclosure, such as a corral, run, pen, turnout, or winter paddock meant to be your horse's outdoor living quarters.

In this week’s blog I’ll talk about what a sacrifice area is and when to use it. In future blogs I’ll cover important considerations for designing and setting up a sacrifice area, as well as how to incorporate it into your rotational grazing system.

Confine your horse in a sacrifice area to:

• Keep pastures from becoming overgrazed below 3 to 4 inches. During the summer months, practice good pasture management by keeping the golden rule of pasture management in mind: graze pastures no shorter than 3 inches. This ensures that the grass plants have enough reserves left after grazing to permit rapid regrowth and healthy plants. Vigorous plants will out compete weeds, grow new leaves (called tillers) making pastures thicker, utilize nutrients more effectively and will prevent soil erosion and mud come next winter.  Put horses back on pastures when grasses have regrown to about 6 to 8 inches.

sacrifice area for horses protect grass

Sacrifice areas protect grass and pastures from the constant stress of horse traffic.

• Keep winter pastures from becoming mucky or compacted when soils are soggy and pasture plants are dormant. In the winter keeping horses off saturated and rain soaked soils and dormant or frozen pasture plants is critical if you want to maintain a healthy pasture the following summer. Soggy soils or dormant plants simply cannot survive continuous grazing and trampling in winter months. Horses are particularly hard on pastures -- the pounding of their hooves compacts the soil which suffocates plant roots. In addition, when the soils are wet horse hooves act like plungers by loosening fine particles of topsoil that are washed away by the rain.

• Keep horses from becoming overweight. Most horses can’t tolerate 24/7 grazing. Talk with your veterinarian, but a body score of 4 to 6 is healthiest. If you can’t feel or see your horse’s ribs then time-out in a sacrifice area (and perhaps more exercise) is in order.

• Confine manure and urine to an area where you can more easily manage it. Surround this area by a grassy buffer such as lawn or pasture to act as a filter for contaminated runoff. Using a footing in this area such as coarse washed sand or crushed rock will help cut down on mud problems in the winter months and will make it easier for you to care for.

Next up: considerations for designing your sacrifice area.