A healthy soil, with a rich soil life and plenty of absorbable minerals, gives better grass and thus better forage for your horse. Why do you actually need to fertilise the soil or provide it with extra minerals? What should you pay attention to? What is the best solution for horse pasture? And how do you take care of the oh-so-important soil life, such as earthworms?
Soil is the top layer of the Earth’s crust. And although you might not think so, it is actually just a very thin and fragile skin on top of a hugely thick layer of rock. That tiny layer of soil plays a very important role in the planet’s freshwater cycle, as a reservoir of carbon (essential for plant growth) and even in regulating the climate. Large-scale agriculture and modern methods of increasing agricultural production have accelerated the removal of nutrients such as carbon and minerals from the soil. Faster than can be replenished by nature. Moreover, the diversity in soil life has been greatly reduced, due to harsh intervention in the soil and because often only one crop is grown.
Minerals in soil = minerals in grass and forage
You may have heard that Dutch hay is poor in certain minerals. Magnesium, for example, or selenium. This is not true for all hay, as it depends on the type of soil. The grass absorbs minerals from the soil it grows on. Many Dutch soils do not have sufficient or all minerals available. This is partly a natural process, due to erosion and the leaching of minerals after rainfall. The minerals then disappear via ground and surface water into rivers and eventually into the sea. Partly, the disappearance of minerals from the soil is caused by crops being harvested and disposed of. In addition, the injection of animal manure in particular, which contains a lot of ammonia, leads to acidification in the soil. The acidification (lower pH) causes minerals to ‘detach’ from the soil particles faster and thus wash away faster. On sandy soil, the slurry washes out at lightning speed and pollutes the groundwater.
Soil life is crucial
Injecting slurry on clay soils is disastrous for soil life. Earthworms and all kinds of small animals, in the top 20 to 40 cm of the soil, look after the health of the soil. This is called the soil ecosystem. For example, earthworms are very important in making minerals absorbable for plants. But the soil microbiome (countless microscopic organisms) is also very important for soil health. For example, because organic matter is chopped into ‘bite-sized chunks’ by these tiny soil animals, after which plants can absorb it. Injecting manure, as well as using artificial fertilisers, reduces soil health and therefore the uptake of minerals and carbon by plants. Thus, our hay becomes mineral-poor and yields also decrease. So a healthy soil life is essential for producing healthy forage for animals and food for humans.
Tips for good pasture management
- Sow different types of grass, preferably horse mixes.
- Make sure you divide the land into at least two sections, so that the grass can recover between grazing. Preferably work with strip grazing.
- Don’t let your grass get too long in autumn, to avoid accumulation of sugars and laminitis. As grass does not grow at low temperatures (cold nights), sugars are not used for growth and remain in the grass.
- Fertilise your meadow regularly
- Have your meadow mown regularly
- Put a few sheep with the horses. Sheep eat everything and ensure that even the plants that horses do not like are eaten. You are then less likely to get large areas in your meadow that the horses do not eat.
- If you only have a small piece of land, the risk is that the soil will be compacted too much by your horses. You should then have the soil ploughed occasionally, or preferably worked with a fixed-tooth cultivator, to get air in and introduce carbon.
- Fertilise your pasture with stable manure, which is well rolled. If you use sawdust in the barn, the manure must have lain for at least a year. If you use straw, one season is sufficient.
- Use pasture minerals from pure seawater to supplement minerals.
Minerals from seawater for higher production and better quality
Seawater-based meadow minerals have been used in arable and horticulture for many years. Much research has been done on the effectiveness of these marine minerals on crops. They have a positive effect on crops as well as quality. Animals that eat these crops grow better, are healthier and have higher resistance. Usually, a concentrate of water from the Bering Sea is used, because this seawater contains hardly any pollution. It contains microscopic algae, which make the microelements and minerals from the seawater much more absorbable for plants and animals. Did you know that all minerals on earth end up in the sea via rivers? Therefore, a concentrate from the sea contains all the minerals available on earth. Meadow minerals stimulate soil life and increase fertility and drought resistance. Plant health improves, making the grass more resistant to diseases and insects. Moreover, more grass grows per hectare.
Using pasture minerals on your grassland three times a year
Pasture minerals from the Bering Sea are there for your grass as well as for your horse. One litre of concentrate is equivalent to 100 litres of Bering Sea water. You can use meadow minerals to supply the grass with minerals, making it healthier and allowing your horse to absorb essential minerals through grazing. You then spray the meadow minerals in a water solution on the grass three times a year, for example with a pressure sprayer. Never do this in full sunlight, or when it is going to rain very hard, but preferably early in the morning when there is dew on the grass. Then the minerals will be absorbed directly by the plants. See below for the minerals in Bering Sea water concentrate: