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Cool-season perennial grasses for horse pastures

Quick facts

  • Meadow fescue, endophyte-free tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass are recommended for Midwest horse pastures.
  • Forage yield and consistent growth are key when selecting grasses for productive pastures. 
  • Animal preference also plays a part in deciding what to plant.
  • The University of Minnesota is continually researching and developing forages to withstand our cold winters and provide the best recommendations for animal nutrition and pasture sustainability.

Cool-season grasses in the Midwest

four horses grazing in pasture

At the University of Minnesota we continue to search for the best options for grazing horse pastures in the Midwest. Cool-season grasses are the basis of productive pastures in the Midwest and Eastern United States.

As selective grazers, horses may limit the yield and persistence of some pasture grasses. Their lips and tongues allow them to graze plants to a shorter height than other livestock species. As a result, forage yield and consistent growth are key when selecting grasses for productive pastures. 

Meadow fescue, tall fescue (endophyte-free) and Kentucky bluegrass strike a balance between forage persistence, yield, quality and horse preference. But horse preference for perennial ryegrass and new winter-hardy varieties may make this a good addition to Midwest pastures.

Research summaries

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Krishona Martinson, Extension equine specialist

Reviewed in 2020

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