Actually, no, not so much.
If there is one statement that we regularly run across in our business that is likely to set either Melissa or me off on an unexpectedly long winded tirade, it the the title statement to this post. I don't mind answering the question when the asker doesn't have the background to know what they are saying, but surprisingly to me I occasionally hear this comment from someone in the business.
To everyone else, please believe me when I say the grass growing out there in the field isn't free and is, in fact, by far the most expensive form of feed we utilize. Between the cost of the land under it, the cost of the fence surrounding it and the initial costs of stand establishment, the capital outlay on this farm for an acre of "free" grass is in excess of $ 10,000 per acre. On that acre (at our stocking density) we get to keep exactly half of one horse. And I haven't counted the cost of getting water to the horses on the free grass or the cost of the shelters that they seldom use, either. Maybe not so free, eh ?
On top of the cost of establishing grass there exists the ongoing costs of maintaining it. I've mentioned before that horses are incredibly hard on grass, and without constant inputs of seed, fertilizer, herbicide, etc. one would have a gigantic chunk of nothing but weed infested, bare, eroded earth in only a few short years. Chalk up a couple hundred dollars per acre in purchased inputs every year. And on the scale we practice it, with grass growing on over half a square mile of land, I promise you are going to lose the war if your tools are a hoe and a garden rake. We maintain many thousands of dollars worth of machinery and it's sole purpose is to maintain the (relatively) pretty grass !
When we're done (re)seeding, fertilizing and spraying our not so free pastures we then get to turn around and clip them three or four times a season. This equates to a minimum of seven trips over every square foot of grass on this farm every year, and that equals a LOT of time ! Since there is no money tree growing in my back yard and since I don't have folks lined up to help me achieve my goals without expecting to get paid, there is a substantial out of pocket labour cost involved too.
In spite of all the time, effort and money we spend to maintain decent pastures, we are still at the mercy of Mother Nature. During the record setting drought of 2007, which conveniently started immediately after we spent most of our pasture maintenance money for the year, we ended up buying extremely expensive hay to replace the non-existent (but very expensive) grass.
Melissa will attest that when the climate offers up less than ideal grass growing weather I'm often not pleased with what I'm stuck looking at out in the pastures. But things look pretty good right now, and for the first time this season I feel like I'm fully on top of things with regards to pasture maintenance. Please enjoy the pictures, and please take a moment to admire the expensive grass ! :)
Asterik and Chimano