Existing Equine Pasture Best Management Survey Findings from NE-1441 States


Pasture is a good source of nutrition and 94% of U.S. equine operations allow horses to access pastures [8]. Proper management of equine operations requires the adoption of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to balance nutrient production and prevent erosion. Government agencies are concerned about non-point sources of water pollution and have focused on agriculture, including equine operations, as a major contributor to water quality issues. Many states’ laws have regulated equine farms, requiring farm managers to incorporate BMPs. Best Management Practice utilization on horse farms needs to be quantified before regulations are adopted. The objectives of these various states’ surveys were to quantify and assess the use of the equine industry’s BMPs in pasture management and erosion control and to examine potential environmental impacts. The object of this abstract is to compare and look for some similarities in the ways horse farms are managed to mitigate negative environmental impacts. Few studies have investigated horse BMPs in the regions. More research is needed to assess the effect of horse farm management on the nation’s water quality.

What did we do?

Over the past five years, state university extension equine specialist participating on the NE-1441: Environmental Impacts of Equine Operations, multi-state project, have conducted surveys of their state equine industry. Many of the state surveys were conducted to quantify and assess the use of the equine industry’s BMPs in pasture management and erosion control and to examine potential environmental impacts.

In all cases a written survey instrument was developed and the questions were reviewed by experts in the field for content and face validity. Some of the surveys used the multiple waves, (postage) mailing techniques, while some used online survey mailings, and others used an SRS clicker feedback style quiz during a program or event [1,3,7,10]. Several states developed a large list of names and email addresses consisting of horse owners/farm managers from within their state. All used follow-up reminders sent to non-responding addresses to increase return rates. All of the state’s surveys analyzed the data for descriptive statistics. Frequencies and percentages were determined for all surveys. Cross tabulations were used to determine the relationship between management practices and farm management demographics. There is difficulty in comparing the different surveys because they are all different in methodology and in the way they were conducted and analyzed.

What have we learned?

Size and scope of the equine industry-

The New Jersey equine industry consists of 7,200 horse farms with 29% having 8 or more horses. In NJ more than 50% of the farms had 5 or fewer horses and 56% of the farms had 4.05 hectors (10 ac) or less and 18.6% had more than 8.09 ha. [10] The Maryland Equine Industry consists of 87,000 horses located on 20,200 operations, averaging 11.6 ha of pasture [3].  The Pennsylvania study averaged housing 13.4 horses on 21 ha (52.7 ac) of pasture and has 32,000 operations [7].  The Tennessee study reported the average herd size of 5, with 25.6 ac designated for pasture [6]. Forty-two percent of Vermont’s horse operation house over 9 horses on 25 ac of land.

Methods horse farms used to manage pasture quality-

Results of a Pennsylvania horse farm survey showed, that during the growing season, as many as 65% reported using a rotational pasture system and 25% continuously grazing horses [7].  A Maryland survey found that only 30% of horse farm operators used rotational grazing on their farms [3].  In a Tennessee survey, continuous grazing was practiced by 51.5% of respondents. Only 23.8% of TN respondents allowed pasture to recover to a recommended grazing height and 45.3% reported sometimes resting pastures [6].  The New Jersey survey reported 54% practicing some form of rotational grazing [9].  A study conducted on farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin revealed farms had an average stocking density of 1.75 acres per horse [1].  Designated sacrifice lots were present on 84% of farms, while the average ground cover was 88% in NJ [10]. The PA study, reported 23.8% allowed pasture to recover to a recommended grazing height and 45.3% reported sometimes resting pastures. Most respondents, 75.4% assessed their pasture vegetative cover at 80% or better, and 5% reported poor vegetative cover [7].

Methods horse farms used to manage soil and weeds-

Pasture weed problems were reported to be a major issue by 78.1% of TN owners. Half of TN farm operators (49.8%) indicated they have never performed soil fertility tests [6]. While in NJ, 31% of horse farms indicated they soil test [10]. PA horse farm operators (49.8%) indicated they have never performed soil fertility tests on their pastures, with only 25.4% testing soil every 1-3 yrs [7].  In the NJ survey 89% reported mowing pastures [10].

Methods horse farms used to manage manure-

The PA survey reported that farms composting and using compost on the farm (34.1%), hauled off the farm fresh (10.9%), spread fresh on crop/pasture fields daily (10.6%), composted and hauled off farm (7.7%), horses pastured 24 hr/d with manure harrowed or removed (16.4%), horses pastured 24 hr/d with manure never managed (7.1%) [7]. New Jersey farms, 54% indicated they spread manure on their farmland, and 74% indicated that they have a designated area for storing manure. NJ farm with greater pasture acreage were positively correlated with having manure storage [10].  The TN survey, reported, that stall waste was stored on bare ground in uncovered piles (89.8%) and either stored indefinitely or spread regularly on pastures [6].

How do farm managers receive/obtain information-

Several studies showed, horse managers are receiving most of their educational information from publications, magazine articles and the internet [7].  Therefore, Extension needs to reach horse farm managers with what we do best, factsheets, popular press articles and meetings. In the PA survey, resources participants used for information included books, magazines, publications (79.4%), internet resources (79.1%), acquaintances (65%), agencies (60.5%), multi-media (27.8%), private businesses (15.7%), and 2% reported using none. Participants indicated that the primary limitation to them altering current management practices was finances (75%), knowledge (37.5%), regulations (13.7), and an inability to obtain services (11.7%) [7].

In a South Dakota study, 29% of participants indicated that their primary need for information was regarding horse pasture management and 12% wanted to figure out how to increase grazing for horses as a primary goal. Many new SD landowners were present at an Extension event with 38% having owned their acreage for less than 3 years, and only 19% had owned their acreages for more than 10 years [5].

Future Plans

Knowledge of the current scope and nature of equine industry management practices are important when developing regulations and laws that will govern land management on equine operations. Recently, several state environmental regulations are having a direct impact on equine operations. However, horse farms frequently manage horses on fewer acres per animal unit and have the potential to pose a significant environmental risk. A NJ study reported that the rate of spreading manure decreased on farms with over 20 horses [10].

Most states surveys data shows that many horse farms are utilizing BMPs to help reduce environmental impact. However, many of these studies determined that landowners of small acreages have little knowledge of natural resources management [2,5,7].  There are several areas, such as soil testing and the use of sacrifice loafing areas in pasture management, where educational programming and cost share funding are needed to target specific BMPs underutilized by the equine industry. Nearly all survey respondents reported having some pasture and nutrient management questions [2,5,7,10].

In order to help stable managers understand the principles of sustainable best management practices, Cooperative Extension can conduct state-wide “Environmental Stewardship Short Courses.” These educational programs need to be a comprehensive series of educational programs (face-to-face meeting or webinars) to promote adoption of best management practices on equine operations. In addition, what is really needed is a comparative surveys instrument that can be used nation-wide to quantify and assess the use of the equine industry’s BMPs on horse farms.


Ann Swinker, Extension Horse Specialist, Pennsylvania State University aswinker@psu.edu

Betsy Greene, Extension Equine Specialist, University of Vermont

Amy Burk, Extension Horse Specialist, University of Maryland

Rebecca Bott, Extension Equine Specialist, South Dakota State University

Bridget McIntosh, Extension Equine Specialist, Virginia

Additional information

  1. Earing J, Allen E, Shaeffer CC, Lamb JA, Martinson KL. Best Management Practices on Horse Farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin. J Anim. Sci. 2012; 90:52.
  2. Fiorellino, N., McGrath , J., Momen, B., Kariuki, S., Calkins, M., Burk, A., 2014. Use of Best Management Practices and Pasture and Soil Quality on Maryland Horse Farms, J. Eq. Vet. Sci. 34:2, 257-264.
  3. Fiorellino, N.M., K.M. Wilson, and A.O. Burk. 2013. Characterizing the use of environmentally friendly pasture management practices by horse farm operators in Maryland. J. Soil Water Conserv. 68:34-40.
  4. Henning J, Lacefield G, Rasnake M, Burris R, Johns J, et al. Rotational grazing. University of Kentucky, Cooperative Extension Service 2000; (IS-143).
  5. Hubert, M., Bott, R.C., Gates, R.N., Nester, P.L., May 2013. Development and Branding of Educational Programs to Meet the Needs of Small Acreage Owners in South Dakota, J. of NACAA. 6:1, 2158-9429.
  6. McIntosh, B. and S. Hawkins, Trends in Equine Farm Management and Conservation Practices ASAS, Phoenix, AZ. 2/13/12.
  7. Swinker, A., S. Worobey, H. McKernan, R. Meinen, D. Kniffen, D. Foulk, M. Hall, J. Weld, F. Schneider, A. Burk, M. Brubaker, 2013, Profile of the Equine Industry’s Environmental, Best Management Practices and Variations in Pennsylvania, J. of NACAA. 6:1, 2158-9429.
  8. USDA: Aphis” VS, (1998). National Animal Health System, Highlights of Equine: part III, p. 4.
  9. Westendorf, M. L., T. Joshua, S. J. Komar, C. Williams, and R. Govindasamy. 2010. Manure Management Practices on New Jersey Equine Farms. Prof. Anim. Sci. 26:123-129.
  10. Westendorf, M. L., P. Venkata, C. Williams, J. Trpu and R. Govindasamy. 2012. Dietary and Manure Management Practices on Equine Farms in Two New Jersey Watersheds, Eq. Vet. Sci. 33:8,601-606.


The State University Extension Equine Specialist that make up the NE-1441: Environmental Impacts of Equine Operations, Multi-State Program. USDA, NRCS-CIG grant for funding the Pennsylvania project.

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