Sick Horses due to Superphosphate

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Sick Horses due to Superphosphate

Post by JSCOTT » Wed Aug 25, 2010 4:07 pm

Hi, I live on 5 acres near Windsor NSW. We’ve been here for the past 10 years and when we arrived the land was very poor, and had been overgrazed and badly managed. Not knowing anything about pasture and owning horses I relied on my local ag shop to assist in improving the property for horses. The pastures were plowed and seeded and gypsum, dolomite and super applied during seeding and also when it rained, which is not a regular thing here.

4 years to the month my first horse developed Headshaking – never seen it before and the vet didn’t offer any suggestions as to how to fix this problem, 4 years after that my new horse has developed the same problem, and I am now on a mission to fix this.

After doing countless hours of research, ive now determined that it’s a mineral imbalance caused by the grasses that I have seeded, being mainly quick growth rye, clover, phalaris and fescue, and superphosphate (mainly the superphosphate).

I need to somehow reverse the effects of approx 6 years of using super on my paddocks, I have started to put lime out to correct the PH:C ratio, and I am going to reseed the paddocks with horse safe grass. Being a very poor area for growing anything, with the exception of paddy’s Lucerne. If I reseed my paddocks and don’t put anything into the soil to help with growth, the paddocks will certainly fail, I want to know about Organic fertilizers that will not harm my already very sick horses, but help the pasture to become healthy and support the grass and cope with two horses. This land would benefit from time out, unfortunately being only 5 acres, I can only manage to spell half my paddocks at one time and then it’s only a maximum of 6 months.

The soil test done in March 2010, showed very high levels of Phos, Magnesium and Manganese, low levels of calcium, zinc, copper, sulphur.

The pasture that i am going to seed is Cocksfoot, Prairie & Rhodes, all horse safe grasses, but if unsupported by something in the soil i am very concerned that they wont survive.

Ian James
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Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Re: Sick Horses due to Superphosphate

Post by Ian James » Fri Aug 27, 2010 12:00 am

Hi, I'm not sure that I have an answer for you but I'll try.
I know that clover has high concentrations of oestrogen and that it can affect animals that eat too much of it.
Depending on how much of the horses diet is clover it could be a clue.

I have recently learnt about the benefit of summer active perennial grasses.
They can quickly improve soil quality and do not mine the soil as do annual grasses.

The perennial does not need to produce an annual crop of seeds to ensure a future generation the next year, subsequently they produce a very large and deep root mass. As Peter points out in his books, some plants mine the soil and others build the soil.
Perennial grasses use the summer sunlight to produce large quantities of sugars but since they do not need to produce seed use this sugar to feed soil biology in exchange for nutrients that the soil biology can access. The sugar starved soil biology use the carbon in sugar to build their structures deep in the soil and through this carbon the soil is improved.

Your soils are not low in phosphorus at all, in fact they are only low in plant available phosphorus. By adding phosphorus to the soil you are discouraging your plants from feeding the soil biology that can unlock and access the huge quantities of locked up phosphorus.
Your plant will grow using the added phosphorus but the soil will be weaker for the next generation.

Let the plants feel the need to seek phosphorus, they will grow strong roots and will pump their sugars deep into the soil to attract the soil biology (fungus).
The biology will be stimulated and will grow and quickly unlock ample phosphorus to feed the plant and thereby restore the natural sequence in your soils.
Your plants will be more balanced in their nutrient content and your horses will not need to eat so much to satisfy their needs.
I am not guessing, this process is well known. Research "soil food web" for more info.

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Re: Sick Horses due to Superphosphate

Post by JSCOTT » Fri Aug 27, 2010 8:22 pm

Hi, thanks for getting back to me.

I do have both of Peters books now and starting to work my way through them, but i need to leap frog a bit cause i have to seed in October.

If fully understand your comment "Your plant will grow using the added phosphorus but the soil will be weaker for the next generation", in previous years when i have seeded a paddock, the initial growth was amazing and very quick once it had some rain. The difference in the next season was dramatically reduced, and even with significant rainfall the areas became very patchy, with large sections of weeds taking over.

The clover in the paddocks was minimal, as i used to spray my paddocks, and the clover was killed on the first spray, so that is not what caused this to happen. It is definately a build up of superphosphate on the paddocks and consuming quick growth annual grass, high in sugar levels and potassium when in quick growth stages of spring and autumn.

So what you are basically telling me, is really do nothing, aside from planting perennial grasses and let the grasses correct the imbalance. Am i going to help or hinder the process by adding lime to the soil, as i need to increase the calcium and magnesium levels in the soil as the excess potassium during those months is binding up those minerals for the horses.


Ian James
Posts: 253
Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:31 am
Location: Avon West Australia

Find the right person and ask the right question

Post by Ian James » Fri Aug 27, 2010 10:09 pm

I'll do my best here but there are people out there who can help you more than I can. I will just point you in the right direction so that you can find the right people and ask the right questions.

Do nothing, well not exactly....sometimes doing nothing does a lot. The idea is to let nature choose which plants grow on your soil. The plants that nature chooses for you will be the ones that are best able to bring your soil to maximum health with maximum haste.

Depending on seeds that are in the soil, you may need to spread a good mix of seeds from a neglected pasture nearby.
A good way to do this is buy pasture hay and feed it to your horses around the paddock and the seeds in the hay will take on your pasture.
Depending on your current summer active perennial pasture establishment...

If it is sparse then you will need to add seed and establish seedlings. Some fertiliser (seek advice) will likely help the seedlings establish. I would expect that the area will need to be destocked during establishment (seek advice). You will need to find out what plants of this type will suit your area but remember even the so called experts don't know it all so use a broad brush and plant a wide mix of varieties... at least three... The more the safer.

By the way, I am practising what I am preaching here, my plan is to introduce summer active perennial grasses for the first time in trial plots over my farm this spring, so we are in this together you and me.

I am not using fertiliser at all because I have built an exhaust fertiliser machine on my tractor that stimulates plant growth without chemical fertiliser.
This will make it easier for me but you will need some small amounts to get you started probably.

As far as lime goes, well that depends on your pH and who you talk to.
My learning so far strongly suggests that lime is a lot like fertiliser in that you can use it if you want to have a short term benefit but in the long term it will leave your soil and plants weaker.
The thing is you need an alternative strategy if you are going to not use it. Using zero inputs with no alternative strategy will also give you poor results because past land management practises have left your soil like an addict. If you try to go cold turkey it will get the shakes.

There are other strategies you can use and there is ample information available, for clues talk to organic farmers to find hints about what might work for you, remember, no one will have all the answers and you will need to test and try a few ideas before you gain the experience necessary to make you own mind up as to what system best works, suits you and suits your soil and targeted outcomes.

Peter A himself will tell you to plant what you will call weeds, thistles and such especially things like Patterson’s Curse or by its other name Salvation Jane because these plants will access calcium and bring it to the top soil and make it available for other plants.

Remember that by allowing weeds to establish you will enhance the health of your soil so that your pastures will thrive. The end result will be a net gain in production of nutrients not volume. Don't measure your pasture in volume but in nutrients because it is nutrients that you are farming. A low nutrient feed will make your horses graze longer and harder and cost them more energy a high nutrient pasture is far more efficient for your horses and it will cost you less because you won’t be buying inputs.

It all hinges on photosynthesis that is the production of sugars which is carbon energy. Maximise photosynthesis over the summer months by maintaining a green cover over the summer months, do not kill summer weeds and establish summer grasses.
These plants send carbon into the soil which helps create humus.
Humus is the holy grail of soil health and productivity and fertilisers destroy it.

1 kg of excess N will destroy 100 kg of humus.

100 kg of humus will benefit equal to 1000 plus units of N

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