ON April 29th, CAFRE Enniskillen campus ran its well-attended Green Grazing Day. Despite the inevitable downpours (which actually helped illustrate some points), the opportunity for equestrians to discover innovations and strategies in sustainable pasture management for horses proved a fascinating few hours.

As this last year has beautifully highlighted with its incessant rain, environmental challenges in the farming and equine industry continue to rise. Finding ways to benefit the environment symbiotically with improving equine health needs to be the default thought process for the modern equine farmer.

CAFRE advisers and technologists guided two sessions of visitors to the Enniskillen campus and through measures that can be implemented to achieve ‘dual benefits’ – improved welfare for your horses and a better environment for all. The team of experts brilliantly demonstrated ways to make a positive impact on both your horses and the world around you, and as they put it ‘be a part of the movement towards land sharing and land sparing concepts for a greener future for equine grazing’.

Carbon output

To kick the event off, Michaela Tener from CAFRE’s sustainable land management branch shared a powerful presentation on the ‘Carbon Hoofprint’ including the helpful figure that 6198.2 kt CO2e being the total agriculture emissions for Northern Ireland and emissions from horses being only 20.6 kt CO2e. Tener also gave examples such as the difference in carbon output of breeding stock versus performance horses, transport being the main factor in those differences.

First port of call on the campus grounds was a guided walk around the ‘active turnout’ from senior equine technologist, Julie McSwiggan. The active turnout is a smart solution for turn out, more commonly known as a track system. The system is a series of walkways and surfaces of varied materials such as bark, pea gravel, mud and sand; with feeding stations, rubbing posts, shelters and grassed areas also encorporated. Track systems make a lot of sense in our increasingly wet Irish climate.


Fair enough, we don’t all have CAFRE’s budget for drainage and infrastructure to play with but on my own yard we have utilised an old 1970s Lough Neagh sand arena which has grown over. The old arena is set into the landscape surrounded by indigenous woods with steep hill paths, logs and a shelter. It’s good to look at your farm and ask yourself which areas you could utilise for some active turnout. Set ups such as these can help relieve the pressure on your grazing areas, can replace sacrificial paddocks and can help with weight management and offer daily interactions for your stabled horses too. McSwiggan noted that the horses were healthier and happier, and hooves in particular benefitted from a more natural environment as opposed to the dry stable environment.

Following the turnout walk, Andrew Thompson, an environmental technologist from Greenmount campus, got down and dirty with soil and grass production. He showed us a sod lifted from one of the CAFRE fields and what healthy soil should look like. He noted that taking a look at the weeds in your fields and paddocks can be an indicator of the soil you have, advising soil testing regularly and fertilising accordingly, and no spreading within at least two metres of a waterway. Andrew was also a wealth of information on the machinery equine farmers should be using, you might think twice about the old roller if you knew the damage it can do to grass roots in some instances.

Whether you are in the jurisdiction of DAFM or DAERA, it’s a good idea to have a read of the relevant government nutrients action plan to help you make the right decisions when it comes to managing your land.

Linking in with the nutrient question was a great presentation by Greenmount’s environmental technologist Joe Casey who talked us through all things manure. Did you know the amount of manure excreted (dung and urine) by a horse has been reported to range from 20.9 to 30.6 kg per day depending on the size of the horse and level of activity? That’s a lot to shift.


Casey talked through the guidelines for use and disposal of our dung heaps and CAFRE lecturer Ashley Neely, gave a presentation on equine parasites and why the manure heap can help or hinder your battle against worms. According to Neely, it takes 40-degree heat to kill parasites and she pointed out that many manure heaps don’t always reach such temperatures, so there is always a possibility we are re-spreading parasites on our land. She also shared the rather shocking fact that if you use ivermectin wormers, that horse droppings with ivermectin can still have 100% toxicity even when it’s been through our horses’ systems. If it’s spread back onto the land, it can harm bees and other wildlife as well as being highly toxic to dogs. The solution is egg counts, saliva tests and blood tests where appropriate. Also, when you know you have had a high worm burden, do not put it in your main manure pile or spread on land.

Finally, we looked to the trees and hedges of the CAFRE campus and some of the planting taking place. Technologist Kym Griffin discussed how healthy hedges can be good for a horse’s gut microbiome, as well as providing safe barriers. Not often mentioned in talks such as these is the need for somewhere comfortable for a horse to sleep; a dry, sheltered area for a horse to lie down. Also not discussed too often these days is the sun. But Griffin pointed out that if you are planting trees and hedges it’s important to think about where your horses will get shade. Rotating paddocks is also a good idea, it mimics the natural way a horse grazes, eats and moves on. Interestingly, Griffin stressed that short grass is actually more harmful for overweight horses because stressed grass has higher sugar content: so you may not be doing the right thing if you put your fat pony on a bare paddock. This Green Grazing event was a generous chance to learn about building a positive environment-forward approach for your horses in today’s climate.

The course was free and I highly recommend it. Bravo CAFRE.