Building healthy soils through the breakdown of organic material and the hyper accumulation of minerals, weeds can be the tools in our natural resource tool shed that will restore the health of our horse pastures.

Biological Pasture Management: Part 2 Healthy Soils

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In part 1 we highlighted the importance of dietary fibre and pasture management for our horse’s health. The brief history that I presented on farming and pasture management methods should not be surprising, it is something that can be found on a simple internet search and is well documented, but even to this day, it often goes against the advice received through government departments.

WEEDS PLAY A ROLE

The role of weeds in a biodynamic pasture system is absolutely essential to successfully fast track the making of healthy soil. Beliefs play a big part in how we view weeds, and behind most beliefs there is a lie, such as the need to use chemical Glyphosphate (Herbicides) to kill weeds. By spraying weeds, what you are actually doing is selecting for weeds. Glyphosphate kills soil biology when it comes in contact with the ground, and when the biology is gone, what do you have left? Dead soils! And what’s the only thing that grows in dead soils? You guessed it WEEDS!

This is obviously a clever way to perpetuate the profits of the multinational companies that produce and sell these products, (not to mention the sales tax revenue for the governments) but not a sustainable way to manage your property and save money.

Apart from glyphosphate’s high salts content, commercial formulations contain surfactants, which vary in nature and concentration. As a result, human poisoning with these herbicides involves not just the main active ingredient, but other complex and variable mixtures. Imagine what this could be doing to your horse’s health or even your own.

Weeds are immigrants or NON Native, and hard working at that. Our land, Australia is very old. It is now understood by many in permaculture, that once a native landscape has been pushed past the point where it can no longer repair itself, as has happened to today’s Australian landscape, we need a hardworking immigrant (weeds) to fill the niche. Building soil through the breakdown of organic material and the hyper accumulation of minerals, weeds can be the tools in our natural resource tool shed that will restore the health of our horse pastures.

Healthy Soil = Healthy Pasture = Healthy Horse!

You never feed plants! You feed the soil they grow in through the process of breaking down organic matter with soil microbes, bacteria and fungi.  Plants produce food (simple sugars) that is made available at the end of the root tip, and made in their leaves through the process of photosynthesis. . Plants form associations with soil biology to trade foods. The sugars are the food soil microbes need and will be made available to them in exchange for all essential nutrients, minerals, fungi and even water that only these microscopic workers can deliver.

THE ESSENTIAL FUNGHI

Let’s look at fungi as an example. Plants send out chemical signals to fungi that say: “I need magnesium” an element essential to plant growth. Fungi networks – chains of microscopic mycelium (fungi) strands that have been recorded up to 1 – 10km long and deep – can search out the required nutrient and deliver it to the plant in exchange for the food (sugars and carbohydrates) the fungi needs to thrive.

When most people think of fungi they think of mushrooms, and they also think they are plants. A characteristic of plants is that they inhale carbon dioxide (Co2) and exhale oxygen (O2). Fungi actually breathe in oxygen (O2) and exhale Co2 just like humans. Fungi survived 2 mass extinctions, the last one 65 million years ago, and the only plants that also survived were the ones that formed associations with fungi.

By improving the management of our pastures, we are not just looking after our soils and the life that they contain, but also the health of our horses who are eating the grass grown in them.

The hardest part of teaching people about working with natural systems and improving pasture health is that it’s not something you can buy off the shelf from the local rural supplies, spread it or spray it and water it in. Soil health will be achieved when we restore the natural balance that allows the interaction of the soil food web as illustrated in the reference illustration (picture 1). Natural systems are a way of thinking, and the only science recognised by nature. When you don’t work with nature’s natural systems you suffer, and it will cost you money.

Compost & Tea Making:

Typically, clients call us and say “We just went to the rural supplies with our soil test and it says that our soils are deficient in (N) Nitrogen”. So they sold us a tone of High (N) Fertiliser to correct the problem. It’s cost a lot of money and we have no clear results, what can we do”?

Importing soil improvers starts a cycle of dependency on prescription farm management and high costs, and begins to kill our soils. Just imagine there was a way of recycling everything that your farm or pony club provided naturally to make your own fertiliser! It is possible, and over a short period of time, you never need to spend another cent on importing soil improvers.

Compost is made using the waste products of your animals’ manure, stable bedding, weeds from paddocks, lawn clippings, and household waste such as food scraps and paper (anything that was once living can be composted). These are mixed into a pile of around 2 cubic meters, just like making cake.

Hot Composting:

The Berkley Method of hot composting (Developed at the University of Berkley USA) is based on turning the compost pile regularly to encourage an aerobic (with oxygen) process and heating the pile with a balanced mixture of high nitrogen items like lawn clippings and manures, with carbon (straw or paper). The biology will heat the pile up and eat and break down organic matter, bringing the temp to an ideal range of 55oC to 65oC, which kills all bad pathogens in the animal manures, weed seeds etc… Temperature is critical in this process, and by turning the pile when the 65oC is reached it is possible to achieve highly fertile soil building compost rich and abundant in microbes, fungy and every element required, and this can all be achieved in just 28 days.

Compost Tea:

Once a level of closed system pasture management is reached, phase 2 of the cycle can begin. Compost Tea uses about 1kg of your nutrient rich compost and requires the use of a (1000ltr) tea brewer. The tea brewer enables us to soak the compost in water for 24hrs in a brewer bag while a high flow of air bubbling past it separates the soil biology from the compost, and attaches it to the highly oxygenated water which is then sprayed on to the soil.

(Note: please don’t try this by placing manure into still water! This is very dangerous as it breeds bad anaerobic bacteria which can be harmful to you and your horse.)

When tea is brewed the correct way (as researched and developed by the Soil Foodweb Institute (SFI) Worldwide and in Lismore, NSW), horse owners can achieve sustainability, get to know their soils as well as their horses, and save a lot of money in the process.

Another bonus is that it could also make you money! For example, a highly biology rich compost “Inoculum Compost” made by an experienced composter and sold for compost tea making is worth $150 per kg to biodynamic farmers. Imagine what a good fundraiser this would be for your Pony Club!

Click here to read the article on Pasture Hydration and Farm Design, Part 3 in this series.

Click here to read Part 1 of this series: Roughage and Pasture Management

 

Mariette van den Berg, PhD, BAppSc (Hons), RAnNutr

Mariette van den Berg has a PhD in Equine Nutrition and Foraging Behaviour, is a RAnNutr equine nutritionist, a Certified Permaculture Designer and a dressage rider. She is the founder of MB Equine Services.

Nick Huggins

Permaculture Consultant for MB Equine

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