The Environmentally Friendly Horse

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The Environmentally Friendly Horse Powered By Docstoc
					The Environmentally
Friendly Horse
O            ur environment contains a variety of
plants, animals and aquatic life. Each species
has a unique role within the environment, and,
                                                      Protect Your Water
                                                      Clean water is vital for the good health of you
                                                      and your horses. Your land and horse
as a result, each relies on the other for survival.
                                                      management practices can influence the quality
Maintaining such biodiversity is essential for
                                                      of water available not only to you, but also to
creating a healthy environment that is capable
                                                      your neighbours. Even if you do not live near a
of sustaining all species that live within it. The
                                                      stream or lake, you can affect water quality.
more diverse the ecosystem, the better it is able
to respond to changes or stresses, such as floods,
drought, pests and disease.                           Nature’s Drain Pipe: The
You can help create and maintain a sustainable        Watershed
environment by modifying some of your land            Water initiates from springs, rainfall or
and horse management practices. The benefits          snowmelt, and it runs downhill or underground
of ecosystem management will be reflected in          until it eventually reaches the ocean. An area of
more productive pastures, clean water, fertile        land that catches rain and snow and then drains
soils, and better overall health of your horses.      or seeps into surface waters (i.e. creeks, streams,
This chapter outlines and describes some key          rivers, lakes or wetlands) or groundwater is
areas where your horse management practices           called a watershed.
may affect the environment and what you can do        Essentially, we all live in a watershed, which
to minimize these effects.                            means everyone has an affect on water quality.
                                                      As a landowner, you have a responsibility to
                                                      maintain or improve the quality of the water
                                                      that leaves your property.

    Figure 1. Prevent water pollution by diverting runoff from rain and snowmelt around manure
    storage areas, corrals, riding rings or other areas manure accumulates.

    Have you ever followed surface runoff as it         The Watershed
    flows across your land? Where does it go? Does
    it flow through your corrals, pasture or manure
    pile? Surface and groundwater can be                Many Alberta communities are taking a
    contaminated if runoff is allowed to run through    “Watershed Approach” towards environmental
    corrals, riding rings and other areas either        land stewardship. This approach takes into
    where manure is not regularly removed or            consideration both ground and surface water
    where manure is stored (Figure 1).                  flow within a particular watershed. If you are
                                                        interested in learning more about your
                                                        watershed, the publication Getting to Know Your
     Tips for Maintaining                               Local Watershed (Agdex 576-8) is available from
                                                        Alberta Agriculture.
     Water Quality
      • install rain gutters and roof runoff systems
                                                        Nature’s Water Filter:
        on barns and covered arenas                     Riparian Areas
      • create diversion berms to divert storm          Riparian refers to the land immediately
        runoff around corrals and other                 surrounding waterways and other surface water.
        confinement areas                               Riparian areas are defined as the zone of
                                                        vegetation alongside creeks, streams, rivers,
      • create catch basins for contaminated
                                                        lakes and wetlands.
                                                        Riparian areas support high levels of
                                                        biodiversity. The combination of deep rich soils,
                                                        water and lush vegetation provides food, shelter
                                                        and breeding grounds for many plants, animals
                                                        and aquatic life. In fact, approximately 80 per
                                                        cent of the province’s wildlife use riparian areas
                                                        for all or part of their life cycle.
In addition to housing a diverse population of        Riparian Management
plants and animals, healthy riparian areas
provide the following benefits:
                                                      • Use alternative watering sources to keep your
• buffer the negative effects of floods and winds
                                                        horses away from the water’s edge and reduce
  by reducing soil erosion
                                                        trampling of the vegetation.
• filter sediments and nutrients from runoff
                                                      • Provide salt, supplemental feed and an
  before they enter water sources
                                                        alternative water source away from riparian
• riparian vegetation provides shading in the           areas. These practices will decrease the amount
  summer months and helps prevent ice damage            of time your horses spend in the riparian area
  in the winter                                         and will reduce the risk of water contamination.
• reduce drought effects by holding and slowly        • Fence off access to riparian areas with either
  releasing available water                             permanent or temporary fencing. This barrier
While riparian areas are highly diverse and             creates a vegetative buffer zone between the
function to improve water flow and quality, they        water’s edge and the pasture, which provides a
are also very sensitive and can easily be               natural filter for contaminated pasture runoff.
disturbed or destroyed by grazing animals             • If you allow your horses to graze riparian areas,
(Figure 2). If you allow your horses to graze           turn them out for short periods to prevent
riparian areas, watch for signs that they are           overuse and trampling of the area. One option
causing damage. Signs of damage to riparian             is to include the riparian area in your rotational
areas include:                                          grazing program. For more information on
• reduction in number of saplings (i.e. young           grazing management, refer to the chapter
  trees and shrubs)                                     “Better Management of Your Horse’s Pasture”
                                                        in this manual.
• reduction in plant height resulting in
  vegetation cover that resembles a mowed             • Avoid grazing riparian areas during the spring
  lawn                                                  when the vegetation is more vulnerable to
• evidence of pugging (hoof tracks left in soft
  soil) and hummocking (soil that has been            • For additional information on riparian area
  pushed up by pugging)                                 management, refer to the publication, “Caring
                                                        for the Green Zone: Riparian Areas: A User’s
                                                        Guide to Health” (ISBN No. 0-7785-2305-5)
                                                        available from the Public Lands Branch of
                                                        Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.

Figure 2. Riparian areas are highly diverse and fragile. They can easily be damaged by grazing
animals. Use riparian areas for short durations to reduce grazing impact.
                                                                                to enhance soil structure and protect soil from
                                                                                erosion. Maintaining a healthy vegetative cover
                                                                                in your pasture will protect the soil from both
                                                                                erosion and compaction.

                                                                                Tips for Preventing Soil
                                                                                Erosion and Compaction
                                                                                Plant a Shelter Belt
                                                                                A shelter belt is a row of trees or tall shrubs that
                                                                                act to capture blowing soil. Trees with a deep
                                                                                root system will bind soil aggregates better than
                                                                                shallow-rooted trees. Agriculture and Agri-Food
                                                                                Canada, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation
                                                                                Administration (PFRA), has a shelter belt
                                                                                program. For information on planting suitable
                                                                                shelter belts, contact your local PFRA office, or
                                                                                visit their website:
                                                                                Understand the Topography
                                                                                Understand the landscape of your property and
    Figure 3. Bare patches leave your pasture vulnerable to soil erosion        be aware of the drainage patterns on your land
    and weeds.
                                                                                as well as on neighbouring lands. Protect areas
                           Healthy Soil = Healthy                               of high runoff with vegetation cover. In some
                                                                                cases, it may be necessary to remove horses
                           Plants                                               from an area entirely if the area is susceptible to
                           Plants obtain the nutrients they need for growth     water erosion.
                           from the soil. Therefore, to have a productive
                                                                                Adjust Stocking Rates
                           pasture, you need to maintain healthy soil.
                                                                                Do not turn out more horses than your pasture
                           Bare patches in your pasture and other areas         can support (i.e. overstocking) and do not allow
                           that lack vegetative cover are vulnerable to soil    horses to graze plants down to the soil (i.e.
                           erosion by wind or water (Figure 3). Erosion         overgrazing). Overstocking and overgrazing not
                           removes valuable topsoil, which is where most        only compact soil and cause erosion, they also
                           soil nutrients are found. Therefore, erosion can     severely reduce your pasture productivity.
                           severely deplete soil fertility levels and starve
                                                                                Practice Rotational Grazing
                           pasture plants of nutrients needed for growth.
                                                                                Season-long grazing can reduce plant vigour and
                           The health of your pasture can also be adversely     plant cover, resulting in a decline in pasture
                           affected by soil compaction. Soil will often         productivity. Cross-fence large pastures into
                           become compacted in high traffic areas, such as      smaller paddocks and rotate your horses
                           near gates, along fencelines and on paths to and     between the paddocks. This type of grazing
                           from water sources. There is also a risk of soil     management gives each pasture a periodic rest
                           compaction in areas where horses loiter              from grazing and gives plants a chance to grow.
                           throughout the day, such as around feed bunks,       For additional information on grazing systems,
                           water tanks and in shady areas. Overuse of such      refer to the chapter “Better Management of
                           areas destroys plant cover and compacts the soil,    Your Horse’s Pasture” in this manual.
                           reducing air and water infiltration as well as       Alter Grazing Patterns
                           increasing the risk of soil erosion.                 Change the location of your water source, feed
                           While the health of the soil is important to the     bunks and salt blocks regularly to reduce the
                           health of a plant, the reverse is also true: a       formation of dirt trails and to minimize the
                           healthy plant is essential for a healthy soil. The   effect on areas where horses loiter.
                           roots of plants aerate and provide organic
                           matter and nutrients to the soil. Roots also act
Weed Invasions
Does your pasture appear to have more weeds
than lush pasture grasses? A sure sign of stress
to the land is the appearance of invasive weeds
coupled with a reduction in the regrowth of
desirable vegetation.                                                                                    Riding in the
Weeds invade areas that have been denuded of                                                             back-country
vegetation because bare soil provides an                                                                 Trail riding in
ecological niche to exploit. The increase in                                                             Alberta’s beautiful
available nutrients, water and sunlight as a                                                             and breathtaking
result of a reduction in plant canopy cover                                                              countryside is a
                                                                                                         popular getaway for
provides an ideal environment for weeds to
                                                                                                         horse owners.
establish. Areas in your pasture that should be                                                          However, many areas
checked for weeds frequently include handling                                                            across the province
areas, watering sites, along fencelines and                                                              are extremely
around winter feeding areas. Weeds also invade                                                           sensitive to hoof
pastures that have been overgrazed.                                                                      tread, grazing and
                                                                                                         contamination from
You may not realize that you have invasive                                                               manure.
weeds. Some weed species produce attractive
flowers that are pleasant to look at                                                                     Whether you are at
(Figures 4 and 5). However, weeds are                                                                    home or on holidays
                                                     Figure 5. Yellow toadflax is an aggressive
                                                                                                         with your horses, it is
considered undesirable plants with limited or no     invader of pasture land. Toadflax has an
                                                     extensive root system that makes it difficult and   important to be
grazing value. Some weeds may even be harmful
                                                     costly to erradicate.                               environmentally
if eaten by your horse.                                                                                  responsible. The
                                                                                                         following are tips to
                                                     Leaving weed infestations unchecked will            reduce your impact
                                                     decrease the overall productivity of your           while enjoying the
                                                     pasture, reducing the amount of nutritious          back-country:
                                                     forage available to your horse.
                                                                                                         • camp in designated
                                                     Weed eradication can also be expensive.               staging areas only
                                                     Pastures may have to be taken out of production     • take only weed-free
                                                     to allow time for an intense weed eradication         feed for your
                                                     program. Loss of a pasture means the added            horses
                                                     expense of supplying your horse with                • take out what you
                                                     supplemental feed, which can be particularly          bring in (i.e. all
                                                     hard on the pocketbook during times of drought        garbage, spare
                                                     or feed shortages. And depending on the weed          feed, manure, etc.)
                                                     species to be sprayed and the size of the           • stay on the trails
                                                     affected area, herbicide cost must be factored in   • avoid riding near
                                                     to the overall expense.                               the edge of stream
                                                                                                           banks, because
                                                     Early detection and early treatment is the best       trail wear can make
                                                     approach for preventing large scale weed              stream banks
                                                     infestations. For more information on weed            unstable and can
                                                     identification and eradication, see the Alberta       lead to erosion
                                                                                                           during times of
                                                     Agriculture publications Weeds of the Prairies
                                                                                                           high runoff
                                                     (Agdex 640-4) and Crop Protection
                                                     (Agdex 606-1).
Figure 4. Purple loosestrife was introduced to
Alberta as a garden ornamental because of its
attractive rose-purple flowers. Purple loosestrife
chokes out waterways and the native vegetation in
riparian areas.
    Be a Good Neighbour                                                      The
    As a horse owner, your land management                                   Bottom
    decisions not only affect your property, but also                        Line
    the adjoining landscape. It is your responsibility,
                                                                              • Protect water quality by
    then, to keep updated on municipal bylaws to
                                                                                installing rain gutters on
    avoid an issue from arising among you, your
                                                                                buildings, diverting storm
    neighbours and your local government.
                                                            runoff away from corrals and manure storage
    Taking the initiative to become a good                  sites and limiting your horse’s access to
    neighbour can prevent potential tension in the          riparian areas.
    community. Beneficial environmental practices         • Prevent soil erosion and compaction by
    will decrease unwanted odours and pests and             maintaining productive pastures and
    will reduce the spread of weed species. By              periodically rotating feeding and watering
    demonstrating responsible agricultural practices        sites.
    with your land and horses, you can help
                                                          • Detect and treat weed invasions early before
    everyone enjoy rural Alberta.
                                                            they spread and reduce pasture quality.
    To maintain good neighbour relations:                 • Set an example in your community and in the
    • maintain healthy pastures and riparian areas          province by practicing responsible land
    • control weed populations                              stewardship.
    • properly store and dispose of manure
    • properly store and remove garbage