Last Updated on April 9, 2022 by Allison Price
Forageplus is often asked why there is so much clover in the horse pasture. We discuss clover’s benefits in pasture, how much clover can be harmful to horses, and what you can do about it.Quick Navigation hide 1 Types Of Clover2 Clover In Fields2.1 How does clover affect horses?4 How can clover be reduced in horse fields
White, red and alsike are the most common clovers found in horse pastures. Sweet clover can cause bleeding disorders in horses and is a problem clover. However, it is not often found in pasture settings. It is most common in hay mixtures that are harvested from roadsides, where deep-rooted sweet clover has been seeded to stabilize the soil.
Because it can withstand close grazing, white clover is often found in horse pastures. White clover is a slow-growing, non-stripped plant. White clover has stolons, and the stems run along the ground. Each of the three leaflets will have an inverted white V marking. This is often called a watermark. The flowers are of white colour.Why is my horse pasture full of clover? 4
Red clover is a tall plant with large reddish-purple flowers at each end of each hairy stalk. It is a common pasture legume but it cannot tolerate continuous grazing. Like white clover, the watermark is also on the leaves of red clover plants.
Like red clover and Alsike clover it is a tall upright flower. Its flowers, however, are smaller and more pink than red clover’s and the leaves don’t have a watermark or inverted “V” white on them.
Clover in the fields
Clover is an important component of fields. Clover is an important component of horse’s diet. It contains significant amounts of useful energy, protein, and fiber. They are the most commonly found leguminous plant in horse fields. They convert atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available nitrogen. Clover can also be used as a “filler” for pastures, so it can cover bare spots and keep out weeds that are less beneficial.
Horses and ponies can benefit from clover when it is part of a variety of plants in their fields. However, if clover becomes dominant in the spring, then horses may see a rapid rise in protein content.
Clover growth is most prolific in July and August. Your horse will naturally reduce the amount of clover that is eaten as the season progresses. However, clover will become bitter and less palatable over time. Horses who are accustomed to clover as their dominant plant will be forced to eat it even though it may not be very tasty.
What happens when clover takes over?
You will notice that the grass becomes less productive if it is constantly cut short. This is a way to profit from a situation that does not favor grass growth. For grass to thrive, it needs to be able to recover between being grazed and not. Grass finds it difficult to be grazed, which can lead to the sward being less dense and the roots becoming shallower. Clover may take over your sward and compete for space.
Clover can thrive in soil with low fertility. It needs more minerals to increase soil microbial activity. Clover productivity will be affected by nutrients that are balanced in the soil. A soil that has the right amount of calcium, phosphorous and magnesium will increase soil microbial activity and improve the fertility of soil, so that clover can be outcompeted by other plants.
There are four main reasons for excessive clover growth in horse pastures. Each has a recommended management strategy.
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|Clovers can compete with traditional pasture grasses in poorly-drained or compacted soils.||Avoid poaching by keeping horses away from saturated pastures. When fields become compacted or heavy-trafficked, it is important to aerate them.|
|Clover thrives in low-nitrogen environments because it can absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere. Clover will thrive in a low-nitrogen environment if it isn’t suppressed by grasses that can grow in rich soil with sufficient nutrients.||To ensure healthy and well-functioning soil conditions for horse pasture, you should conduct appropriate soil testing. Learn more about soil testing for horse-friendly pastures here|
|Overgrazing, where the grass becomes very short, such as a bowling green causes a reduction in grass population and weakens grass roots. This results in sparse low-density leaf growth. Overgrazing promotes aggressive clover growth, and weed invasion.||A rotational grazing strategy that is effective will prevent overgrazing. When the grass has fallen to 6 cm in height, horses should be moved to another area.|
|It is possible that the grass species chosen for pasture might not be suitable for the soil type and the intensity of grazing to which the field will be exposed. This results in sparse sod that supports the growth of clover in some pastures.||Reseeding is not necessary in the majority of cases. It is enough to care for pastures by applying the correct soil and grazing in a manner that promotes the growth of grasses and the dormant seeds waiting for the right environment. This will create varied and healthy grazing conditions for horses.|
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What is the problem with clover for horses?
Because clover is nitrogen-fixing, clover can be beneficial to any pasture if used in moderate quantities. Clover can be beneficial for horses if consumed in the right amounts. Consumption of clover can be problematic if the clover percentage in pastures or forage/hay mixtures exceeds 10/20 percent. Horse health is also at risk if clover isn’t healthy or contaminated by fungus or other toxic substances.
Clover that grows in abundance on overgrazed, poor and sick pastures is likely to become unhealthy. The nitrates it may be consuming are called Non-Protein Nitrogen (NPN). Equines are able to tolerate a moderate amount of potentially toxic NPN compounds in their food. NPN levels will rise in plants where soil sulphur levels are low. These compounds are even more abundant in NPK-rich spring growth or in conventionally fertilised pastures where the sulphur levels have not been sufficient to balance nitrogen.
NPN can also be naturally accumulated in clover under stress like frost or drought. NPN in excess can cause liver imbalance and toxins in horses’ blood. Laminitis can be caused by toxins in the blood.
What is the problem with clover for horses?
Horses have different preferences and sensitivities about clover. Some horses may be affected by clover while others are unaffected. However, some horses can be affected by excessive clover consumption or exposure to unhealthy clover. These problems can include obesity, excessive salivation (slobbers), or lactation in non-pregnant animals. Sometimes, other symptoms include difficulty breathing, skin lesions and difficulty urinating.
Clover poisoning can be caused by Alsike clover, which results in photosensitisation or liver disease. Photosensitisation, which is often the first sign of poisoning, is secondary to liver damage. Alkaloids in clover can cause liver damage. The skin is contaminated with toxic metabolites from plant ingestion. Photo-reactive metabolites can create harmful oxidative compounds in the presence sunlight. This causes tissue damage and inflammation. This photosensitisation is most severe for horses with non-pigmented skin (non-pink areas). Photosensitisation will not affect horses with darker skin. Photosensitization is similar to “sunburn”. The symptoms include a reddening skin and then weeping, painful open wounds. These will be covered by a crusty discharge. How long and how many toxic clovers the horse has consumed will determine the severity of the symptoms. After several months of plant intake, liver cirrhosis or scarring can occur.
Horses suffering from symptoms of asike clover poisoning should be given new feed immediately and taken off a clover-rich diet. Mild cases are likely to improve once the toxic clover has been removed from their diet. Photosensitized horses will benefit from a reduced exposure to the sun. The skin lesions will heal if they are allowed to graze during the day and provided shelter in the shade. Horses with advanced liver disease are unlikely to survive.
Under certain conditions, clovers are susceptible to fungal infections. This is especially true if they are grown on soil that has low fertility and compacted soil. The combination of warm days and cool nights in late summer and early fall creates heavy dews that seem to provide ideal conditions for fungal growth. It appears that there is a causal link between “stressed” clover and the caudal heel dermitis (or mud fever) which usually occurs in late summer and early fall. This skin reaction could be caused by either ingestion of a mycotoxin from fungal growth, or skin contact with the irritating mycotoxin.Horses can be used to graze the pasture in a rotational, cell-grazing manner that returns nutrients and helps strengthen healthy grass growth. To create grazing areas, electric fencing can be used.
How to reduce clover in horse farms
Rotating horses around the pasture as though they were migrating animals is a good grazing method. This allows for periods of rest and helps to manage overgrazing. You can divide the grazing area into individual cells by using electric tape. Horses will graze one cell until the grass is at least 4-6 cm long before moving on to the next. The horse then takes over the grazed cell and tops it. This creates a positive cycle of soil recycling that returns nutrients and organic material to the soil. This reduces soil compaction. The parasite cycle can be broken by allowing the cell to rest for at least three months. Droppings are not picked-up but are used to replenish nutrients in the soil. Rotational grazing provides enough leaf surface to allow grasses to produce food through photosynthesis. This allows them to grow, recover, and compete with clover.
You may not have the option to use the rotational, mobile method of grazing. However, if your grazing is always very short-cropped, then some grass seed mixtures are better suited for short grazing. Short-cropped horse grazing can cause a lot of problems. Because the horse must eat very close to the soil, short-cropped grass will always be high sugar, low fibre, and dirty. It is better to allow horses to consume longer, lower-sugar, and higher-fiber grass. It is better to give horses hay that is longer than 8 cm long.
The best strategy to manage a pasture with a lot of clover is to change the management to lower it. Management cannot be altered, but broadleaf herbicides labelled for pasture use are the last resort. This can eradicate clover. It is best to apply herbicides while clover is still growing. You can also apply herbicide to the clover while it’s still green in autumn. Horses should not be allowed to go on pasture for more than a month following spraying, and at the very least until all of the dead plants are gone.
You should plan carefully for any reseeding of paddocks. Ploughing should be avoided in any situation to ensure that the soil environment is not disturbed. In spring, overseeding can be useful together with applying nutrients to improve soil health. The clover will disappear like a miracle when you combine it with overseeding, resting pasture and topping it.
Poor soil fertility is a problem for clover, so it is important to apply nutrients and lime according to soil test results. This will ensure that the soil has a balanced pH and nutrient level. It is essential to have the correct soil test so that the proper nutrients are applied to the pasture. Forageplus has found that a test to calculate the amount of nutrients needed is more effective for creating healthy soil that produces nutrient rich, low-sugar, and mineral balanced pasture for horses. If the soil is well balanced, clover will be able to reduce to beneficial levels.
Clover productivity will be affected by nitrogen sources such as well-rotted farmyard or other nitrogen sources. These nitrogen sources must match the soil analysis. This is the most cost-effective way to add nutrients back into soil, but it is not the best. A rotational, cell, and grazing method where the horses’ manure is used to add organic matter as well as nutrients back into soil is the cheapest.
Poor grazing practices can lead to clover problems and other health issues. It is important to address the root causes of poor grazing practices for horses. For more information or assistance with managing the land that horses graze on, please contact us.