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University of Minnesota Extension

Cover crops for horse pastures

Quick facts

  • Cover crops can extend the grazing season in the fall.
  • Cover crops are annual forages.
  • Berseem clover doesn't produce much forage, but horses prefer it the most.
  • Horses do not readily eat radish and turnip.
  • Berseem clover, annual ryegrass, and winter rye are an ideal mixture for horse pastures.

Fall grazing for horses

Two horses grazing cover crops in research plots.
Horses grazing cover crops in UMN research plots

Pastures in the Upper Midwest contain cool-season forages like white clover and Kentucky bluegrass. However, pastures may not produce enough forage to graze into the fall. Horse owners often must rely on costly, preserved forages like hay to feed their horses in the fall and winter. 

Growing annual forages like cover crops can help offset the need for hay in the fall. When planted in August, cover crops can provide forage from September until a hard frost in November or December. Common cover crops include winter rye, annual ryegrass, berseem clover, daikon radish, and purple top turnip.

Using cover crops in horse pastures

Winter rye grass in a horse pasture covered with frost.
Winter rye in a frosted horse pasture

Horses prefer berseem clover, winter rye, and annual ryegrass over turnip and radish. These forages can be useful for extending the grazing season for horses.

Because berseem clover produces little forage, you should plant it in a mixture with winter rye or annual ryegrass. 

Planting turnips and radish in highly compacted areas with increased hoof traffic can help break up the soil. You could also use them to prepare a pasture for reseeding the following spring by improving soil health and out-competing weeds.

Testing cover crops in horse pastures

Berseem clover
Berseem clover

In September and October of 2018 and 2019, we grazed four horses on a mixture of cover crops:

  • winter rye,
  • annual ryegrass,
  • berseem clover,
  • daikon radish, and
  • purple top turnip.

We seeded pastures each year in August.


Authors: Jessica Prigge, Krishona Martinson, Extension equine specialist, and Craig Sheaffer, Extension forage specialist

Reviewed in 2022

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