How are horses used for soil regeneration?
We create a small area with temporary electric fencing and portable water. This area contains two horses and is approximately 500 square meters/yards. The horses stay in this area for 3–5 days, depending on how much feed is available. Monitoring of dung and ground cover determines the time we plan to have the horses on the plot. It takes about 15 minutes to set up the fencing and move the water. Our monitoring is showing a shift from bare ground to new-growth perennials and composting litter.
After an area is grazed, we usually wait more than five months before returning the horses to it. In our monitoring we saw that plants were not regenerating, litter was not building, and animal health was not perfect. When we allowed five months of recovery we observed no more worm problems for the horses, founder, etc. Some may claim that horses’ grazing styles are inherently bad, and they will inevitably damage the land, but from our experience, we learned that problems stem more often from management, not horses, or grazing styles.
Another key principle is that horses are designed for large volumes of relatively high-fiber feed. Excess protein is a big problem in grazing animals’ health. The older the plants, the better balance of protein to energy, generally. To address this, we had tended to give the horses small volumes of high-quality feed, such as Lucerne / alfalfa hay. But now we don’t supplement at all, as we always found that the feeding allowed animals to pick up litter by staying too long. This is the way we also manage the feeding of our 200–300 cattle.
We believe well-managed horses are very powerful at regenerating grasslands. We also use them to maintain the grass around the house so we have no need to use herbicides or mow.
Mobile chicken units and healthy land
We house approximately 50 chickens in a caravan for their nesting area and allow them pasture so we can have free-range eggs and improved soil health. It only takes an hour per week to shift the van and the dogs. We have the chickens follow the cattle and they usually only roam out about 50 meters/yards from the caravan.
We shift the chickens on a weekly basis. Normally we only shift the caravan 100 meters/yards, and the chickens shift themselves. With weekly shifts, the caravan becomes home, not the ground they roam, so the chickens continue to produce eggs even with moves.
We have lower costs, better eggs, and less mess. We found it was important to maintain high levels of straw in the caravan to eliminate smells. Now our children even take their friends inside the caravan to play in the warmth with the chooks (chickens). We rake the top straw layer and chicken manure out of the caravan with a leaf rake before each shift. We’re seeing better coverage of pasture, and the manure and straw are left to compost with no additional labor..
The caravan is an example of how simple changes can lower costs, improve ecosystem function, improve products, and reduce workload.
The long and the short of planned grazing
We raise 200 cattle on 550 acres, and because of the grazing and recovery processes we’ve employed, we have seen the land health improving rapidly.
We only adopt practices that build soil, and monitoring is key to making sure that we are achieving the results of increased soil health. Planned grazing is now very simple because we’ve learned the most important point is making sure to allow ample time for pasture/soil recovery.
Graeme Hand is a Holistic Management® Certified Educator who lives in Banxholme, Victoria, Australia. He can be reached at: Graeme.firstname.lastname@example.org
This article has been summarized from the original, “Using Horses to Regenerate Land,” by Graeme Hand, originally appearing in IN PRACTICE, the bi-monthly publication for Holistic Management International. To learn more and subscribe, go to www.holisticmanagement.org.