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The Best Pasture Grass For Cows and Horses

What Pasture Grass Would Be Best For My Cows and Horses?


What is a forage crop?

A forage crop is like the meat and potatoes for horses and cows. It fills them up but does not quite give them everything they need. They are essentially the traditional pasture grasses.


What is a legume?

Legumes are the vegetables of the meal for horses and cows. This is the supplemental food from which grazing animals get a majority of their nutrients. These crops can coexist, planted in pastures with forage grasses or grown in other plots for supplemental grazing.


Each grass has its strengths and weaknesses. Diversity in a pasture is what leads to its success and survival. For the best results, it is important to have a soil test done on your plot. Fixing a plot’s deficiencies like soil pH will help it produce to the best of its ability, giving you the best yields and the most nutritious feed for your horses and livestock.


Forage grasses for horses and livestock


Diversity in a pasture is ideal when it comes to mixing grasses and legumes. Some endophyte in a plot is good, as it is said to increase forage’s hardiness and improve yields. Dilution and diversity is the best way around too much endophyte. Plant a combination of grasses and legumes to dilute fescue intake. To test your pasture for endophyte you can contact your county extension office if you feel it might be an issue. 


Kentucky bluegrass is a cool season grass that grows from Tennessee to Canada. It reproduces through seeds and spreads like some warm season grasses by sending out rhizomes. It does not have great heat tolerance. It is said to do better when seeded with clover. Does well with close grazing and great for horses and livestock but will not do well south of zone 7.


Fescue is one of the most common up north and as far south as Georgia and zone 8. Be sure to use only low-endophyte varieties to reduce likeliness of fescue toxicity poisoning. Although some varieties do well in shade and have better drought resistance than other cool season grasses, overseed it with perennial rye for its tolerance to trampling and Bluegrass for its ability to self-repair. Great for Northern climates down to transition zone 8.

What is Fescue Endophyte Toxicity?

Endophyte is a fungus that horses and cattle can get from eating too much of an endophyte infected fescue grass. It can decrease milk production in cattle plus low birth weight and poor weight gain in both cows and horses. It is important to use a low endophyte fescue or endophyte free fescue when planting your forage crop.


Timothy is a perennial grass that is used primarily for hay, as it is quite nutritious but it can have difficulty with trampling and is often short lived. It prefers a cool humid climate and is better used in conjunction with other forage grasses or legumes like alfalfa. It grows best in Northern climates for rotational grazing and hay and can be found as far south as zones 7 or 8. Timothy is also good for erosion control due to its ability to adapt to moist lowlands.


Orchardgrass is a great cool-season grass that can grow 2 to 4 feet tall and with good winter hardiness and good tolerance to drought, it works well in Northern climates as a forage grass. Red or White clover is a good companion legume to plant with it. It has great tolerance to being trampled and makes great hay. Orchardgrass is used from Tennessee to the Dakotas and big in the Pacific Northwest. It also has good tolerance to shade.


Perennial ryegrass is a cool season grass that adapts to a wide variety of climates and growing conditions. It is used in northern climates where the temperatures don’t stay over 90 degrees for a long period of time and where temperatures don’t stay below 25 degrees for long periods of time without snow fall. Snow will insulate perennial rye, keeping it protected from sub-freezing weather. It is also considered to be one of the most nutritious forage grasses and also a good grass for hay. Perennial rye has been touted as a high traffic turf grass as well as its ability to withstand trampling from horses and livestock.


Bahaigrass is a good choice in tropical and sub-tropical areas. The 4 recommended varieties are Pensacola Bahia, Argentine Tifton 9, TifQuick and Argentine Bahai. Some other types have been found to cause birth defects in horses.


Common Bermuda and Hybrid Bermuda both are warm season grasses that produce great hay for horses and cattle and grow well in tropical, sub-tropical and transition areas (zones 7-9). Transition areas are simply the south most zones where cool season grasses grow and the north most zones where warm season grasses grow or the area where cool season and warm season grasses can coexist. Bermuda grows well in sunny areas, has great drought tolerance, grows fast and spreads, therefore recovers well. Can be cut short to ½ inch and can be grazed on but rebounds better when used as hay.


Along with planting Legumes with your forage grasses, there is other, more region specific grasses that can go well in your plot. Many recommended Legumes include Alfalfa, White Clover, Sweet Clover and Red Clover. Legumes like many of the clovers can benefit forage grasses due to their ability to produce excess nitrogen which eliminates fertilizer costs and improve forage yields.


You can talk to your local Home Depot garden expert for more answers but we would really love to answer any other questions that you may have right here on these forums. We also love to hear input from other experts. This is how we all learn and sharpen our skills.





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Not what you were looking for ? Try posting a question
Posted 2015-01-25T20:31:21+0000  by Ingar_HD_ATL Ingar_HD_ATL

Great post, Ingar!

The grass that I grew up with here, in Marietta, Ga. was Kentucky 31 tall fescue grass. We still sell K-31 at my store, and from your article, I've learned that K-31 grass should not be considered a pasture grass because of the presence of endophytes.

K-31 was once a popular pasture grass, but is now considered only as a lawn grass, no longer to be utilized as a feed grass. There are newer, endophyte friendly tall fescues, such as MaxQ, Jesup, Bronson Tall Fescue and Kentucky 32 that are good choices for feed grass.


Some of the characteristics that make a good grass for pastures might not be a good attribute for residential lawns.

·        Pasture grass should be a fast growing plant, but it could become impossible to keep up with the mowing schedule for a fast growing lawn.

·        Pasture grasses typically require more fertilizer to keep it green. The presence of livestock provides some of this additional fertilization, naturally.


Turf-Type tall fescue was developed through hybridization to create a superior residential lawn grass. Some of its attributes include:

·        A fine, thin blade that feels softer, less coarse.

·        Slower growing rate that produces fewer grass clippings.

·        That slow growth results in a darker green color and

·        Turf Type fescue requires less water and fertilizer to grow at its best.


Examples of these superior lawn grasses here, in Atlanta are The Rebels and several varieties from Scott’s, Pennington and Vigoro brands. These are available at your local Home Depot Garden Center although varieties will vary by region.


Turf Type tall fescue is available under many different name brands, but they all share the advantages of producing a lower maintenance and beautiful residential lawn.


I’ll see you in the aisles!



Posted 2015-01-27T21:39:02+0000  by Travis_HD_ATL
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