Articles

Horses and the Magic of Mulching – A VERY SIMPLE WAY TO IMPROVE YOUR LAND

October 18, 2019


Hi there it’s Jane from Equiculture here.
In this video I am going to talk about a subject that we get really excited about and once
people understand how simple and effective it is, they also get really excited by it,
the subject is HORSES AND THE MAGIC OF MULCH. So, this vision of an ideal horse property,
with our horses grazing healthy pasture, with good ground coverage with no bare soil, with
no mud, dust or weeds – unfortunately we don’t always end up with what we envisage… On many horse properties the reality is bare
soil – caused by horses standing for hours at a time and by overgrazing, we get tracking
lines on many parts of the property, we get bare areas around the gates, these bare areas
turn to mud in the rain and become dust in dry weather, and the bare areas invite weeds
into the property. The thing you need to think about is that
if you’ve got bare soil anywhere on your property nature doesn’t like bare soil, so if there
is any bare soil nature tries to cover it with plants, usually weeds in the first place
as weeds are great opportunists. Having said that, not all plants we think
of as weeds are harmful, many can be beneficial, but more on that in another video. Bare soil leads to mud, dust and erosion so
nature tries to cover it with anything to try to preserve and protect the soil. However, there is a really easy, and maybe
unexpected, fix for this, and that is where mulching comes in. Mulching is VERY simple
and VERY effective way of getting more desirable plants to grow. Mulching is a REALLY simple strategy for improving
pasture without involving heavy machinery, without involving ploughing and reseeding,
so without needing to disturb the soil, you can simply protect your soil with mulch and
let nature do the rest, it has many, many benefits. So, to mulch bare areas you can use old weed-free
hay, shavings, manure, wood chips from the local council, in fact anything at all, rather
than leaving that soil bare, so if you see a patch of a bare soil you need to cover it
with something ‘organic’ if you can, because an ‘organic’ material will break down
over time and at the same time protect that area. By ‘organic’ we mean something that
will break down, decompose. Please be sure to give this video the thumbs
up and if you would like to become a more knowledgeable horse owner make sure you subscribe
to this channel, and hit the bell to be notified when a new video become available every week! So, on to mulching, you can see an area here
that has been mulched. As I have already said it protects the soil from weeds, erosion and
moisture loss in the same way as what happens when you mulch your garden. It covers the
bare soil, it keeps the wind and the rain and the sun off the bare soil and protects
the soil from blowing away or washing away in bad weather. It INSULATES the soil from the weather. In
winter it keeps the soil WARM and in summer it keeps the soil COOL and not just the soil,
but all the creatures and microorganisms IN the soil, the beetles, the worms and fungi
etc. that live in there that are VITAL for healthy soil, but don’t like these extreme
temperature ranges, so this mulch insulates them all from the weather extremes. It TRAPS MOISTURE, so if you look at the picture
here the top of the mulch is dry, but underneath this is moist and dark, this mulch has been
down for about 18 months in a really dry period in Australia, so there has been no rain for
many, many months, the top of mulch stayed very dry, underneath, the moisture was trapped
there and the microorganisms, the bugs, the fungi, were able to start doing their work
protected from the elements… It SUPRESSES AND PREVENTS WEEDS because this
layer of mulch, just as in the same way that you mulch your garden to keep the weeds off,
it also keeps weeds off your pasture, because the weeds can’t get established in there and
it can suppress the growth of any weeds that are already there. It provides VERY MUCH NEEDED organic matter
for a horse property. Horse Properties are often lacking in organic matter due to poor
land management in the past, so mulch breaks down and adds vital organic matter to the
soil, which is really what you should be trying to achieve. It provides a HABITAT for very important creatures
in the soil, such as earthworms, again earthworms can’t work in bare, hot, dry soil. So, this
moist, protected environment allows them to do their work. A real bonus is that if you use old hay, and
it doesn’t matter how old or mouldy the hay is, the hay contains thousands of GRASS SEEDS
for ‘free’, as well as providing a perfect environment for successful germination. Of course, if you are using old mouldy hay
you wouldn’t be letting the horses eat it first, but that hay is still invaluable to
just place on the ground and let it do its own thing.
If you don’t want your horses to be on the area when you’ve covered it with mulch then
all you need to do is put a temporary electric fence around that area to keep the horses
out. Eventually, that mulch will break down and it leads to all sorts of fantastic results,
as we will show you later. So, you get ‘free’ grass seeds and you
are providing an environment where they can grow really well, so it’s a win-win situation.
You could spend hundreds or more on grass seeds or you can get them ‘free’ in old
hay. Another thing you can do, and we’ve done it
very, very successfully in the past, is mulching with round bales, and it works really well
if you’ve got two or three horses per round bale. In this scenario here, we have four horses
eating this round bale, if you look in the back of the photograph here you can see bare
patches, and this is what the whole pasture was like, just bare patches, compacted soil,
not growing much pasture at all. So, you pop a round bale in there and basically,
let the horses get on with it. It appears that they ‘waste’ some but at Equiculture
we do not consider it as ‘wastage’, rather an investment, because it covers the soil
with an area of INVALUABLE mulch. In financial terms, a round bale costs about
a third less than the equivalent weight of small square bales, so if they ‘waste’
a third then you’ve broken even anyway. However, as I said earlier, it is not ‘wasted’
as it is providing ‘free’ seeds and at the same time PROTECTING the soil and starting
to IMPROVE that soil, so it makes economic sense to do that. If you can, obtain round bales of a plant
species that you WANT growing in your pasture, because they will do. You feed the horses the round bale, they eat
the round bale and when it is time for another, you put another round bale in the next bare
patch, one thing you do need to watch for though is if you have really wet or humid
conditions, some of the hay can go mouldy if it takes a while to eat the round bale. So, if you only have one small pony and a
large round bale it could be many weeks before the pony gets through that round bale and
in wet humid conditions the hay will start to go mouldy, but usually three or four average-sized
horses will get through a round bale in five or six days so there isn’t time for it to
go mouldy, but do watch for it in wet humid conditions. So, once you have fed round bales in the bare
patches and the whole area is covered you remove the horses and let the mulch break
down. That area is NOT going to start breaking down until you get some rain, so if you’ve
got a prolonged dry period it’s fine to go around that area two or three times with hay
and just layer it on even thicker and thicker, but once it starts to rain and once the moisture
starts to get into the hay it starts to break down rapidly, and that’s when you remove the
horses from there, because you don’t want them walking around in that area as they will
just churn it up and will uproot any new grass that is starting to grow. Then once that that mulch breaks down with
all the seeds in it you get this happening. So, you can see the grass here that’s grown,
so we’ve gone from this, to this, to this, just by feeding the horses on round bales
on bare soil. That’s the magic of it, it is so, so effective,
but remember once it starts to get wet and starts to break down you do need to get the
horses out of there because they will churn it up and they will damage any new plants. Another BENEFIT is that they drop manure in
that area. Manure is an added bonus, I know that some people don’t see the benefits
of manure, but it is fertiliser, and that is yet more organic material to add to the
soil. Remember most gardeners LOVE horse manure
for both its organic content and the nutrients it adds to the soil. Don’t be frightened of them eating around
the manure because they’re not going to do that, they just eat the hay and when the hay
gets down to certain level they signal to you to bring some more hay out (usually by
standing at the gate and staring at you) and they then move on to that that fresh bale. So, manure adds VITAL extra organic material
and extra nutrients. It is good idea to keep a bag of DESIRABLE
pasture seeds handy, some that will add to and compliment the species you already have.
Once the seeds (in the mulch) start to germinate then grab some more pasture seeds and scatter
them by hand in the decomposing mulch. They will also germinate and you’ll get a more
biodiverse sward, which is what you really should be aiming for in your pasture. Let’s look at some of the benefits of mulching
when combined with The Equicentral System. Here you can see an overgrazed pasture, you
can see bare patches on there and it really needs some TLC to get it back up to how it
should be, but by applying mulch and using The Equicentral System practices at the same
time, this is the result, a fantastic outcome I’m sure you will agree, just by using old
hay and better horse and land management, it has really turned that pasture around. It also works in wet conditions, this set
of pictures are from the Northern Hemisphere (UK) showing a typical muddy gateway in the
winter that is spreading right out into the paddock. Very wet and not very pleasant for
the horses or for the horse owners. Again after a short space of time, this is
how the land looks (this picture is taken in the following winter). As you can see it
is much, much better. The third picture shows the biodiversity present
in the summer. Wouldn’t you rather be looking at that than mud? Here is more mulching in action. This pasture
has been mulched and you can start to see new grass coming through the mulch as it starts
to break down. This picture here shows mulch used to suppress
weeds. This pasture is full of weeds, or was full of weeds, we can see that mulching has
been very, very effective because there’s new grass growing through the mulch and there
are no weeds in that area, so that mulch has allowed the grass to grow in it and to get
IN FRONT of the weeds and to smother any weeds that were already there. Again, an effective
tool for managing weeds. Here is mulching happening naturally in this
stable. This stable hasn’t been used for a couple months. They’ve been used over the
winter then left for the summer, if you look at the back in this stable here, mulching
is occurring quite naturally and that’s what the grass, that’s what the seeds in here are
trying to do all the time. So, all you are doing when mulching is helping
it to help you by putting it in the areas where you need it to be. It would work just as well if you clean this
stable out and throw that on some of the areas in your pasture and left it there to rot down,
to break down, you’re going to get exactly the same result from what is just a ‘waste’
product. It’s great for problem areas such as slopes,
so by mulching across a slope you are creating a barrier and when it rains the water is slowed,
so it stops the soil from being washed downhill (into the waterways), and the mulch also traps
any soil and nutrients further up the land, reducing nutrients being washed away. Again, it just all adds to improving your
pasture by stopping the soil and nutrients getting washed away, keeping them on the land,
where they are meant to be. It’s great for rocky or treed areas. In this
picture here you can see this area here on the right has reasonable soil and could grow
some pasture, however this area here on the left was just rocks and sand, but by mulching
this area, by using round bales to mulch up and down this area over several months, then
pulling the horses out of there once the weather changes and the mulch starts to breaks down,
NEW SOIL WAS CREATED. As the mulch decomposes it creates new soil, which then grows new
pasture. So, don’t underestimate the MAGIC OF MULCHING
especially in problem areas. In this area here you can see it’s quite badly eroded or
degraded. There’s not a lot of soil left. The owners of this land are mulching and letting
the magic of mulch do its thing. Mulching protects the soil, adds more organic
matter, provides additional nutrients, adds seeds, and creates a good environment for
them to germinate and thrive. It allows more grass to grow and re-creates soil, so it’s
a win-win-win scenario, just by using hay or by using old or discarded materials. It
is a really, really effective and inexpensive method of soil protection, soil improvement
AND pasture improvement! We have a free mini-course about Horse Grazing
Characteristics which you can get by subscribing to our website mailing list – there is a
link below. This course will teach you all about the things that your horse would REALLY
like you to know so make sure you sign up! If you have enjoyed this video please let
us know by liking it. Subscribe and share with your fellow horsey friends and please
leave a comment with what you found interesting. If you are interested in learning more about
better horse management by learning about what is really important to your horse, we
also have a private Facebook group but do the course first and see if this interests
you.

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