Preparing for wet, muddy seasons can be beneficial in terms of helping maintain the productivity of pastures. At a facility prepare or design a sacrifice area or small paddock that is “sacrificed” in terms of allowing the horses to stay in this area while keeping them off the pasture. They can stay in this area when pastures are wet and muddy, in the spring when allowing a pasture to grow, when spraying a pasture with herbicides etc.
The size of the area depends on the number of horses but should be kept to a minimum. Using a smaller area allows one to have better control of manure and urine. Areas can range from small (16’ x 16’) to long narrow paddocks. Place the sacrifice area on high ground in an area with good drainage. Ideally, drainage from the area should go into a buffer area. The area should have access for horses to fresh water and a shelter or windbreak.
The area has to be prepared to allow the horse to stay out of standing water and mud. Geotextile fabric allows water to pass through but does not allow sand or silt to migrate up. This keeps the footing from sinking into the soil over time. The fabric can be placed over a dirt base. Next is the footing. Footing in the high traffic areas will reduce mud. Wood chips, wood chips with geotextile fabric, crushed gravel, crushed gravel with geotextile fabric, crushed gravel and stone dust, crushed gravel and stone dust with geotextile fabric are excellent types of footing. Footing Materials for Sacrifice Areas is an excellent source describing footing options.
Benefits of a sacrifice area include having an area where horses can get out of the mud, having healthy pasture, having the ability to set up a rotational grazing system for pastures, ease of manure removal and improved property value due to improved aesthetics. The biggest disadvantage is the expense of setting up a sacrifice area. However, if constructed properly they require little maintenance and can be used whenever your pastures are muddy, under renovation or over grazed.