Novel Uses of Turfgrasses for Equine Operations
Burk, Amy O
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Dry lots, or small paddocks bare of vegetation, are commonly used to manage over- conditioned equids in order to restrict the diet by offering hay lower in digestible energy and non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) compared to unrestricted pasture access. However, the lack of vegetation in dry lots often caused by overgrazing and heavy traffic has been associated with negative environmental impacts such as soil erosion. Turfgrasses may be suitable as ground cover in dry lots because they are tolerant of traffic and close mowing (e.g. grazing) and may be low to moderate in both yield and NSC. The objective of this body of work was to 1) characterize the prevalence of over-conditioned equids in MD and whether dry lots were being used for their management, and 2) to assess the relative traffic tolerance, nutritional composition, and palatability of commercially available seeded cultivars of cool- season (CS) and warm-season (WS) turfgrasses for their potential use on horse farms. An online survey of licensed stable operators revealed that ~ 40% of horses in MD were over-conditioned and feeding hay in dry lots was a preferred practice despite requiring more maintenance and management time. Two additional studies evaluating wear tolerance of 8 CS and 6 WS cultivars exposed to either no, low, or high simulated horse traffic found that soil compaction increased as treatment level increased in CS and WS traffic trials (P <0.0001). Persistence was reduced in response to traffic in CS cultivars (P = 0.0003), but not in WS cultivars. Overall, tall fescue and zoysiagrass cultivars were most traffic tolerant, but only zoysiagrass had a more ideal NSC concentration. In the final study, horses exhibited no grazing preference among CS cultivars, whereas among WS cultivars they prefered common bermudagrass and crabgrass (P < 0.02). Several cultivars, including Maestro and Regenerate tall fescue, Zenith zoysiagrass, and Riviera bermudagrass cultivars were closest to meeting desired goals of being traffic tolerant, moderate in yield, and relatively low in NSC, and are thus recommended to be evaluated in future studies for on-farm persistence in dry lots and heavy use areas and for long-term effects of grazing by equids.