Targeted Pasture Fertilization for Healthy Horses
Grass is an essential component of healthy equine nutrition. Grassland quality is therefore a decisive factor for horses’ health and performance. Studies have shown that application of Magnesia-Kainit®, in addition to the potassium applications necessary for healthy growth of the fodder plants, will positively influence the plants’ content of magnesium, sulphur and sodium, thereby significantly improving pasture quality.
The positive effects of Magnesia-Kainit® on pasture quality are not yet known to many horse owners. Two thoroughbred studs in the Rhine-valley have taken on a pioneering role by successfully integrating Magnesia-Kainit® into their pasture and fertilization management. Reinhard Elfrich, Regional Consultant of K+S KALI GmbH in Germany, met with Heinz Hönning, owner of the Erftmühle stud, and Wilfried Kübbeler-Hecker, Director of the Estate Administration Schlenderhan, for an exchange of experience. Even though they met in May, the usually lush and green pastures surrounding the farms looked slightly parched, due to the extremely dry spring of 2011.
Grazing is enormously important to studs
Pasture management is extremely important in horse breeding. At the thoroughbred studs Erftmühle and Schlenderhan horses enjoy freedom of movement all year round – except for racehorses undergoing training. Weather and vegetation permitting, mares and colts spend days and nights outside.
Stable sward with excellent nutritional value is the objective
The Erftmühle stud includes 40 hectares of permanent grassland, 7 hectares of which are used for the production of silage. The stud is based on two stallions and a total of 25 thoroughbred mares. Mares and fowls are kept on year-round pastures, with a stocking rate of 1.5 – 2 animals per hectare. “Due to this livestock density and long grazing periods our grasslands are put to quite a bit of use. Pasture and fertilization management need to assure a stable and consistent sward with excellent nutritional value for our animals. What we try to achieve is early and even growth; tall grass is not suited for horses” says stud owner Heinz Hönning, summarizing the demands he places on his grassland.
Wilfried Kübbeler-Hecker totally agrees. “At the Schlenderhan stud, we’ve got 107 hectares of grassland. Of these, 20 hectares are used for producing winter fodder. With our 35 mares with around two yearlings we have a stocking rate of nearly 1 animal per hectare. If spring isn’t as dry as this year we actually have enough fodder to last. In order to reduce rank spots we allow some cattle from neighboring farms to graze together with our horses.”
Reinhard Elfrich, Regional Consultant of K+S KALI GmbH, in conversation with Heinz Hönning, owner of the Erftmühle stud farm.
Reinhard Elfrich, Regional Consultant of K+S KALI GmbH, in conversation with Wilfried Kübbeler-Hecker, Director of the Schlenderhan Estate Administration.
An innovative solution for picking up droppings: the self-propelled “dropper-picker-upper” keeps pastures clean at the Erftmühle stud.
Pretty nosy: Reinhard Elfrich, Regional Consultant of K+S KALI GmbH, in conversation with thoroughbreds at the Erftmühle stud farm.
Reinhard Elfrich, Regional Consultant of K+S KALI GmbH, in conversation with Wilfried Kübbeler-Hecker, Director of the Schlenderhan estate Administration.
Raising yields and quality of pastures
In spring both studs use a fertilization system based on lime nitrogen and Magnesia-Kainit®. Schlenderhan additionally uses calcium ammonium nitrate in order to meet the soil’s demand for nitrogen.
Beginning the grazing season at the Erftmühle stud
At the Erftmühle stud pasture management begins in early spring, by topping and re-seeding the pastures. “After long hard winters we also use rolling, as due to its high clay content the soil tends to heave. For supplementary sowing using 3-4kg per hectare we use a mix of 30% rye grass and 10% poa; poa increases tread resistance. Immediately afterwards we allow a small number of animals to graze on that pasture – they will be a lot more effective than rollers”, Heinz Hönning explains these first measures.
Fertilization is applied as 400kg of lime nitrogen and 400kg of Magnesia-Kainit® per hectare, in two separate steps within a week. The fertilizer is spread by a centrifugal spreader at a working width of 15 meters. “It’s good to do that as early on as possible, in order to get the nutrients into the ground. For Magnesia-Kainit® timing and weather conditions are not quite as important as for nitrogen“, says Heinz Hönning. “And we can even leave our horses on the grassland.”
Securing availability of magnesium on clayey soil
Due to the high clay-content of the soil magnesium availability may be a problem at the Erftmühle stud farm. “Even though measured magnesium contents are quite high our plant samples have in the past shown a lack of magnesium. By using Magnesia-Kainit® we can now be sure that we have a sufficient supply of magnesium in our fodder – not to forget sulphur and sodium“, reports Heinz Hönning. “Ever since we started using this fertilization system our grass has become better, and our horses are healthier and more balanced. Magnesium has a relaxing effect on muscles and the nervous system”.
Pasture management for centenaries at Schlenderhan
Grassland at Schlenderhan includes many pastures that are older than 100 years. “We’ve got some beautiful paddocks and meadows here. It’s not always easy to keep them clean”, Wilfried Kübbeler-Hecker explains during a walk on the stud’s grounds.
Pasture maintenance begins with re-seeding, usually requiring 10-15kg seed per hectare. Sowing, harrowing and rolling are done in one step, by using special equipment. “In order to have fresh green grass early on we begin fertilization at the end of January, beginning of February, by applying 100kg of calcium ammonium nitrate per hectare. We’ve chosen this amount of nitrogen to limit the content of crude protein”, Wilfried Kübbeler-Hecker explains. “We usually apply calcium ammonium nitrate together with Magnesia-Kainit® as these two fertilizers mix very well. The application rate for Magnesia-Kainit® is 600-700kg per hectare. Lime nitrogen is applied mid to end of March, at a rate of 200-250kg per hectare. At this point in time application is most effective against weeds and parasites. In July we once again apply nitrogen and phosphorus, approximately 150kg 18/46 per hectare. This system assures that we get all nutrients that are important for grassland – sodium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium – while at the same time supplying sodium, magnesium and sulphur to our animals”.
Ecologically responsible moss prevention
According to Wilfried Kübbeler-Hecker there is a second positive effect of Magnesia-Kainit® in addition to providing minerals, which is moss prevention. “Due to the great number of old trees around our pastures and lots of humid spots we tend to have a problem with moss formation. Since we’ve started to use Magnesia-Kainit® we have a grip on moss growth. In order to achieve the desired effect it is however necessary to apply 600-700kg of Magnesia-Kainit® per hectare“.
Wilfried Kübbeler-Hecker, Director of the Estate Administration Schlenderhan, also uses Magnesia-Kainit® for moss control.
The reason for this moss-reducing effect of Magnesia-Kainit® is the extremely low tolerance of mosses for salt – they simply can’t take the sodium. This fertilization maintains the desired high-quality varieties, and prevents proliferation of undesirable plants such as ragwort. No waiting periods necessary after application.
Magnesia-Kainit® optimizes mineral supply and feeding behavior
Magnesia-Kainit® is a natural fertiliser based on age-old marine deposits, which in addition to 11 % potassium contains 5 % magnesium, 4 % sulphur and 20 % sodium. It has been approved for use in ecological agriculture as well as for landscape conservation programs.
Magnesia-Kainit® increases grassland’s mineral content
Studies have shown that application of Magnesia-Kainit® will positively influence the plants’ content of magnesium, sulphur and sodium. It will also help to achieve a desirable ratio of nitrogen to sulphur and of potassium to sodium.
|Content modifications after application of Magnesia-Kainit®|
|Application rate Magnesia-Kainit®||0||800 kg ha-1|
|Mineral content of new growth||Targeted value|
|Magnesium (g kg-1 TS)||1,8||2,1||> 2,0|
|Sodium (g kg-1 TS)||0,5||2,3||> 2,0|
|Sulphur (g kg-1 TS)||2,4||3,9||> 2,0|
|Ratio nitrogen/sulphur||13 : 1||10 : 1||12 : 1|
|Ratio potassium/sodium||69 : 1||22 : 1||20 : 1|
Magnesia-Kainit® improves feeding behavior
What is immediately noticeable on both farms’ grassland is the evenness of the sward – a clear sign that the growth is grazed off everywhere. “This is mainly due to the increased sodium content off the grass, which is generated by fertilization with Magnesia-Kainit®“, Reinhard Elfrich explains. “Sodium makes the grass a lot more palatable. The pastures are grazed evenly and completely, and rank spots are diminished”. A statement both experts will fully confirm.
Sodium supply to horses is often critical
“Beyond these visible effects on pastures, Magnesia-Kainit® also improves the horses’ sodium supply via pasture“, Reinhard Elfrich adds. Horses frequently suffer from sodium deficiency. Sodium is indispensable for regulating the acid-base and fluid balances. Sodium requirements are increased by movement, as sodium is lost by sweating.
Why it is so important to remove droppings
In addition to fertilization management, there is one other factor that is decisive to the pastures’ quality: manure dropping need to be removed as regularly and quickly as possible. Manure is a breeding ground for parasites, and the sward is destroyed wherever droppings are left to rot. In addition, horses will avoid grazing the area around droppings. This results in increased rank spots and parasite loads. The latter is extremely problematic to fowls.
Manure collection made easy
Manure collection is generally time-consuming and not very popular, which is why the Erftmühle stud farm has come up with an ingenious solution: for the last couple of months it has been using a `self-propelled dropper-picker-upper´.
“I thought to myself, if it works with leaves, it should also work with horse droppings and contacted John Deere. And together we came up with this machine that you can now watch at work”, Heinz Hönning is clearly enthusiastic. “With 60 horses and a stocking rate of 1.5 – 2 horses per hectare you have no choice but to remove the droppings, and mechanically you wouldn’t stand a chance. The investment of 25,000 Euro for the machine is definitely paying off. It helps us to clean each paddock and pasture once a week.”
Optimized pasture management keeps horses fit and healthy
“Their constitution has improved. And our horses run faster”, is the spontaneous answer by Heinz Hönning when asked whether his sophisticated pasture management shows in his horses.
And that’s what counts in horseracing. Our fowls have become healthier since we’ve decided to forego prophylactic de-worming during the first few months and to only do it as required. They have less diarrhea and are fitter, as the anthelmintic therapy also damages their intestinal flora. I assume that switching from calcium ammonium nitrate to lime nitrate plays an important role. And using Magnesia-Kainit® allows us to be sure that we are providing a sufficient supply of sulphur, sodium and magnesium via fodder, in addition to providing our soil with potassium.
Mixed stocking with horses and cattle improves pasture quality
Horses and cattle differ greatly in their grazing patterns, and therefore influence growth in different ways. Contrary to cattle horses move a lot while grazing and have a tendency `nibble´ while moving. Horses use a grazing technique involving deep biting and ripping, putting quite a bit of strain on the sward. This is further augmented by their very selectable grazing behavior – less delectable spots are simply avoided.
“Having cattle from neighboring as `pension guests´ helps to keep grazing more evenly. The cattle will eat what the horses have spurned. If there is enough fodder to go round this is actually a really good idea and will improve pasture quality. Cattle stocking rate should be around 0.5 animals per hectare. And just in case there’s not enough growth we call their owners to come pick up their cattle”, Wilfried Kübbeler-Hecker explains Schlenderhan’s mixed stocking policy.
Helpful hints for horse pasture management
These two thoroughbred studs show which measures are important for successful management of horse pastures.
Even though there may be variations from operation to operation, it is still possible to list some universally valid recommendations for pasture and fertilization management:
- Top pastures in spring; in case of heaving it may be advisable to roll.
- Repair-seeding with seed mixes high in ryegrass in spring, in order to prevent weed accumulation due to damaged sward.
- Fertilization recommendation for Magnesia-Kainit®: 500 - 800 kg per hectare. Preferably at the beginning of the vegetation period, but also during the grazing period. If grass is mowed to be conserved as winter fodder, higher application rates are advisable.
- Fertilization recommendation for nitrogen: too much nitrogen will encourage tall grass. Application of slow-acting nitrogen fertilizer will promote even growth.
- Regular maintenance cuts (no deeper than 6 cm) during the vegetation period in order to prevent sward disintegration and accumulation of weeds.
- Stocking rate needs to be adapted to actual growth; no more than 3 horses per hectare.
- Remove manure regularly, in order to control parasites and rank spots.
- After the end of the grazing season remove all manure from pastures; if necessary mow once more and top.
Both stud farms confirm the positive effects of Magnesia-Kainit® on horse pastures. Higher contents of magnesium, sulphur and sodium in forage increases palatability and nutritional value for horses. At the same time Magnesia-Kainit® prevents the growth of mosses and of undesirable plants such as ragwort. It is also approved for use in ecological agriculture and for landscape conservation programs. Magnesia-Kainit® is easy to use. Magnesia-Kainit® may be applied at various times of the year, allowing farmers greater freedom of choice and independence from specific weather conditions. And last but not least: animals may remain on the grassland during application.