Probably the most important aspect of managing pastures is the time when you take your horses off your pasture. You can greatly improve the health and productivity of your pastures by creating and using a paddock or "sacrifice area" to confine your horses for this time period.

Sacrifice area

Locate your sacrifice area on higher ground, away from water bodies. Surround it with a grassy buffer for biofiltration of any runoff.

A good option is to have one sacrifice area per horse set up like a run off of each stall. This chore-efficient arrangement gives the horse free access to the stall plus you have a clean, dry, convenient place to feed.

Begin by locating an appropriate site for your sacrifice area which is:

  • On higher ground
  • Away from creeks, wetlands or other water bodies as well as from surface water flows
  • Surrounded by a grassy or vegetated buffer for biofiltration of any runoff
  • Convenient to your barn to make it easy for you to care for your horse and maintain the area.
Size? A sacrifice area can vary in size from that of a generous box stall, say 16 feet x 16 feet, to that of a long, narrow enclosure where the horse could actually trot or even gallop to get some exercise. If you want your horse to be able to run or play in his paddock an enclosure of about 20 or 30 feet wide by 100 feet in length is needed. The amount of land you have available, the number of horses, their ages, temperaments and the amount of regular exercise they receive all play an important role in determining the size you choose to make your sacrifice area or areas.

Sacrifice area

Crushed rock gravel, no larger than 5/8 inch, works well as a footing, although you should avoid feeding your horse on this as well as sand surfaces.

Footing is a key consideration for sacrifice areas. Using some type of footing, at least in the high traffic areas, will prevent erosion and reduce mud. Mud management is as important for the health of the environment as it is for the health of your horse--as well as for your convenience. Hogfuel or wood chips can provide an excellent footing. Gravel (crushed rock, no larger than 5/8") or sand work well in some situations, although you should avoid feeding your horse on these surfaces. Ingesting sand or mud with hay can result in serious sand colic problems and expensive vet bills so avoid feeding on these areas.

Rain gutters and downspouts on all barns, sheds and outbuildings to divert the clean rainwater away from high traffic areas will substantially reduce the amount of mud created in your sacrifice areas during the rainy season. Environmentally this is important because diverting away clean rainwater keeps nutrients (from manure and urine) and sediments (from soil) out of surface waters.

Choose the very safest fencing you can for your sacrifice area. Whatever type of fencing you choose, you may want to reinforce it with some type of electric tape or hot wire -- a good "psychological barrier." Horses are hard on fences and will test most types but they tend to respect for electric fencing.

Be sure that corners are safe and there are no protruding objects where the horse could get hurt, like bolt ends, nails, boards, or the tops of metal T-posts. Watch out for roof lines and the bottom edge of metal buildings. There should be no wires or cords hanging in the area and absolutely no junk, garbage or machinery.

Keep in mind that gates on fences need to be adequately sized for the types of truck deliveries you expect (such as gravel, hogfuel, hay, etc.) and latches are easy to open. Both these points will make chore-time easier to handle.

Even though your horses can move around in their sacrifice areas, they still need regular exercise. Be sure to plan for and maintain a regular exercise program for your horse.

Stay tuned for when we cover integrating a sacrifice area into your pasture management regime.