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Think you have grazing sussed? There may be more to learn…

  • When you have been looking after horses for longer than you can remember, and have your grazing management down to a fine art, it's likely you don't give your grass much more thought. But here Jonathan Holmes explains the role of an equine agronomist

    What is agronomist?

    • An equine agronomist can customise your soil’s fertility and grass species to satisfy the optimum nutritional requirements of your horses.

    What are the obvious ways to see if your grazing or soil is inadequate?

    • “If you look down at the paddock, is everything green? If not (i.e. soil is visible) then a significant grazing opportunity is being missed and the sward is unlikely to survive adverse weather, or grazing pressure,” says Jonathan.
    • “Are your horses happy? Hyperactive, or difficult/constantly unmanageable horses can be symptomatic of a significant imbalance in the soil that is reflected in grass nutrition, and therefore horse demeanour. In the majority of cases these problems transpire to be too much potash, compounded by a lack of available magnesium and calcium. It is relatively easy to re-balance the soil and therefore the grass,” he says.
    • “In-depth (Cation Exchange Capacity) analysis is essential to quantify what is happening. More often than not, any soil-based questions require in-depth analysis to uncover problems reflected in the grass,” he says.

    What are the most common problems that equine agronomist Jonathan Holmes sees with grazing for horses?

    • “Grassland full of weeds, especially creeping buttercup, has a reduced sward and crucially poor nutritional content,” says Jonathan.
    • “Grass swards that are composed of old and unproductive grass species that can’t sustain healthy horses,” he adds.
    • “An environment where horse owners have asked local farmers for advice and allowed them to plough the grass out and re-seed it,” says Jonathan. “From a soil and sward perspective this is the worst thing to do! It kills soil microbial activity, which is crucial for a healthy soil, and takes years for the soil to recover and start generating a productive sward again. Invariably, the wrong grass mixture is used too!”

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