Pasture perfect: Maintaining a horse farm

June 5, 2019 -  By
Horse pasture (Photo: iStock.com/Bear2016)

Photo: iStock.com/Bear2016

Sometimes a good idea can come out of nowhere. For Scott Hartmann, owner of Scott’s Lawn Care (SLC) in Maple Plain, Minn., an idea for a new maintenance service came where he wasn’t expecting it — on a horse farm.

Hartmann recalls that 10 years ago, his company was taking care of the turf areas on a few horse farms, and the farm owners would casually ask if the crews could handle the pastures. “From there, we started to look into it,” he says, “and we started to get more and more people who wanted it done, but they’re concerned about their horses and the products we’re using.”

SLC has 22 employees and provides 40 percent maintenance services, 40 percent snow removal and 20 percent lawn care. Half of its clients are residential and half are commercial. The company revenue is approximately $2.5 million. SLC provides horse pasture management for 20 clients, the majority of whom added on the service to their contracts after they had signed lawn care and maintenance agreements for other areas of their properties.

The company charges about $260 per acre for weed control and fertilizing, more for organic/natural fertilizer, and $180 per acre for maintenance. Its horse farm clients range from one acre to 40 acres. With the immense size of some of these sites, SLC uses Ventrac articulating tractors and their mowing and aerator attachments.

“We have other equipment, but the Ventrac is a lot easier on the soil, and a lot easier to get in and out of things,” Hartmann says. The company also uses Z-Spray spreader-sprayers and slit seeders from several different manufacturers.

Grazing horses add a whole new safety concern to typical weed control. SLC carefully selects its herbicide products, which include Pasture Pro, GrazonNext and Sterling Blue.

“They have zero reentry, meaning that we can spray, and the horses can go right back on it,” Hartmann says. He notes that regardless, the vast majority of his clients still decide to keep horses off the grass for at least a couple days, sometimes up to a week or more.

Hartmann has also learned that horse farm turf can be a study in extremes.

“We have some pastures out here where people say they rotate their horses, but then you find that back areas are overgrown and the front areas are usually overgrazed,” Hartmann says. The overgrazed areas require reseeding to establish the turf again, while the overgrown parts of pastures need to be cut down. One- or two-person crews typically handle the maintenance, while one applicator provides weed control or fertilization services.

Mowing pastures presents another safety concern, since horses can get sick from consuming turf, weed and alfalfa hay clippings because they can start to break down and rot. SLC clears those clippings right away after mowing.

Though horses can take off at a gallop at a moment’s notice, their owners can sometimes be a little slower to move — especially when it comes to contracting pasture maintenance services. SLC has added a horse pasture customer each year, and it typically takes a year or two for a horse pasture farm to get on board with regular maintenance.

“When we take on a project, first (the customer) needs a cut to get the grass back to where they would like — that’s a one-time charge. Then we sell them on a management program,” Hartmann says, noting that the management program typically consists of a mow every four to six weeks, plus weed control as needed. Sometimes, after the company cuts, weeds and seeds and gets the pasture healthy, farm owners step away from maintenance for a couple of years until the pasture is in the same condition it was before.

Though building pasture maintenance clients is a long-term process, Hartmann intends to keep adding more and seeing where the business can run.

“It’s mostly been word of mouth up to now,” he says, “but we want to grow it.”

This article is tagged with , , and posted in 0519, Featured, Mowing+Maintenance
Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the managing editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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