While the ground is moist and the time is right for seeding, take advantage of it and plant some weeds - beneficial weeds, that is. Herbs, in other words. But why would I want to do that? Because when removing everything but the grass from the pasture, many beneficial plants are also removed. Few weeds have no benefit to the horse; even the common dandelion and the stinging nettle have an abundance of nutritional and health benefits.
There are many nutritionally packed herbs for your horse that can supplement his diet of fresh greens. Besides providing a protected herb strip (see "Plant An Herb Strip in Your Pasture!", NHM Volume 1, Issue 2) you can also provide herbs by scattering the seeds directly into the pasture. If a new pasture is being sown or an old pasture is being improved, herb seeds can be added right in with the pasture seed mix.
Herbs contain a broad range of balanced nutrients that can be very beneficial to the horse. Compared to grasses, some herbs contain more minerals. The roots of mineral-rich herbs go deeper than grass roots, burrowing their way down with their taproot systems to the more rocky subsoil where they absorb and transform the crude minerals into utilizable minerals for the herbivore. Weeds such as dandelion, nettle, plantain, and chicory contain a good supply of minerals and other nutrients.
Horses, being natural herbivores, like to roam and graze, choosing forage that instinct tells them to eat to balance their nutritional needs. For thousands of years they instinctively chose the plants that they needed for nutritional as well as medicinal reasons. Limiting a horse to grass alone or to just one area limits the availability of these beneficial plants. Instead, we could provide them with the variety of grasses and herbs that they would naturally select if given the chance. Even after all the years the horse has been in captivity, his talent for instinctively selecting the wild plants he needs is obvious.
Pick and choose what to plant according to your climate, terrain, or country. For determining the soil pH and nutrient levels, consult your Cooperative Extension Service or local agricultural department. When formulating your mix, consider your type of horse farm or situation. If you run a breeding operation, special precautions must be taken (see Volume 1, Issue 2, Good-Sense Herbs for Breeding, Gestation, and Foaling). Consult your veterinarian and qualified equine herbal specialist for the types of seed to include.
Your mix should include a variety of seeds for a nutritionally balanced blend of herbs to help put back the missing elements of a healthy equine diet. Packaged mixes are available from some herbal sources. Equilite packages two combinations of beneficial grazing herb seeds, called "Sow Your Seeds" - Pasture Mix, containing hardier herbs that can withstand foot traffic, and Fence Line Mix, which is comprised of herbs that are more fragile and are best used around the perimeter of the pasture.
Spring is generally the best time for seeding in most areas, but this may be different in your locality. Some seeds may prefer fall planting. Check with your local Department of Agriculture for more information on growing seasons. Numerous herbs that are beneficial, nutritionally and medicinally, can be grown. Plants that are delicate may be planted in an herb strip or patch or in protected areas such as along fences. Give the young plants plenty of time to become established before allowing the horses to munch on them.
In some conditions, certain herbs will thrive. If this happens and they threaten to take over, harvest and dry them or mow them down to prevent them from going to seed. This can keep them under control without completely removing them, because chances are the next year may be less favorable to them and they may be sparse.
Among the many herbs that you may want to consider for your pasture mix are the following annuals (A) and perennials (P). The annuals will re-seed themselves.
Chamomile, German, Matricaria recutita: (A) useful for burns, stings, bruises, wounds, dermatitis; antiseptic; has gentle sedative properties and is soothing to the stomach; has significant anti-inflammatory and pain-killing actions; can also be used to make a soothing lotion for bathing sore or inflamed eyes or in cases of mastitis.
Fenugreek, Trigonella foenumgraecum: (A) very palatable, oily; aids digestion, helps to increase weight; rich in vitamin E and others; seed contains nutrients, protein, and oils; encourages milk flow; may not grow well in parts of the U.S.
Chicory, Chicorium intybus: (P) deep-rooted; good tonic herb; leaves are rich in nutrients; has a beneficial effect on the liver
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale: (P) very palatable, rich source of vitamins A, B, C, and D, and minerals; blood cleansing; spring liver tonic; powerful diuretic reinforced with lots of natural potassium
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare: (P) added to the diet of a lactating mare, can increase the quantity of the milk; the seeds can be added to the horse's food about twice a month to discourage worms
Nettle, Urtica dioica: (P) Though a stinging plant while alive and fresh, drying removes the sting; plants can be whacked down and left to dry. High in vitamin C; a rich source of iron, calcium and potassium; wonderful tonic and cleanser; may help with sweet itch and other skin disorders, and allergic conditions; also helps in the absorption of iron, and may be useful for an anemic horse; hardy plant that quickly spreads
Plantain, Plantago lanceolata, Plantago major: (P) narrow or broad leaf, rich in the minerals potassium, calcium, sulphur, and contains some vitamin K; use chopped or macerated fresh leaves for treating insect bites and stings; grows abundantly
If not already in your pasture seed mix, these may be considered:
Alfalfa, Medicago sativa: (P) excellent source of nutrients and micronutrients, with high protein, vitamin, and mineral content
Red clover, Trifolium pratense: (P) general tonic, promotes healthy coat; contains calcium, essential oils
Upgrade your horses' menu and improve his diet by putting back some of what may have been needlessly removed - herbs, the friendly weeds.
For more information about "Sow Your Seeds" for your pasture, contact:
Equilite at 800-942-5483, www.equilite.com
Advanced Biological Concepts, 800-373-5971, www.a-b-c-plus.com .