Deer and horses thrive on grassland, yet not enough attention is paid to the quality and availability of the nutrition being supplied from the grass. As an industry, we can be too quick to provide a solution to a problem from a can!
Yes, there are many environments where extra nutrients can ensure profitability, but it should be as an addition to what the grass supplies not instead of it. Nutrition from grass is cheaper and more efficiently absorbed by deer and horses.
Grass growth happens once the soil temperature is 6oC, and it is then that it needs feeding. Depending on the soil type, and prevailing weather patterns, this will usually be in early spring. March or early April in most years. But, don’t neglect the opportunity to feed the grass in the autumn to ensure productive and nutritious growth in the spring of the following year.
Firstly, it is important to carefully assess your fertiliser strategy to benefit your animals and their environment, with fertiliser choice largely dependent on availability and price.
Take a soil sample for analysis to assess both the soil’s nutrient supply, the pH and crucially the Cation Exchange Capacity [CEC]. This is measure of the soil’s ability to release essential Cations [positively charged nutrients] from the soil for productive plant growth.
Fertiliser Choice and Application Timing
The majority of grass species only have a root depth of 60mm, so spreading Ammonium Nitrate (AN) 34.5% onto grass is not cost-effective.
The Nitrate element of 34.5% AN moves so fast through the soil that the roots can’t absorb it. Or even worse, they do absorb it and help to generate too high a sugar content in the grass for your deer and horses to utilise. This results in scouring and loss of condition.
Urea [46% ammonium] slowly releases Nitrogen to a crop at a rate that it can utilise efficiently without over promoting lush growth.
In a normal season the price of Urea is cheaper per Kg of nitrogen than AN. Many farmers and growers have been put off using Urea as they have been told that it is prone to volatilisation [lost to the atmosphere].
While this is true, it is only if moisture isn’t available to dissolve the fertiliser. It is highly unlikely that there won’t be enough moisture held in the grass to dissolve the nutrients. Needless to say if the sward has an open habit and it hasn’t rained for a long time, then application is illogical.
Potash is a nutrient that drives the ‘Transpiration’ process (the movement of dissolved nutrients from the roots to the rest of a plant). Therefore, access to it is essential for maintaining a healthy sward that delivers health and live-weight gain.
Without free access to Potash, all crops will develop hidden hunger. This is when a crop appears healthy and viable (usually through ready access to Nitrogen) but in reality is lacking in nutritional content. All crops will suffer a yield penalty as a result of this.
Excessive Potash availability to the grass and, therefore, the deer and horses, means that the extracellular fluid (fluid not contained in cells) is permanently high in potassium.
High Potassium levels can affect the spinal cord, brain and muscles by upsetting the delicate sodium:potassium ratio. As a consequence, the nerves and muscles cannot relax creating restless hyperactive deer and horses.
We recommend using Patentkali for all Potash applications, as it is a natural product that contains Magnesium and Sulphur – essential for productive grass growth. Patentkali contains 30% K, 10% Mg and 42% SO3.
Muriate of Potash is the cheapest product on the market for delivering Potash, but don’t use it! The high salt content breaks down in the soil creating a powerful sterilant that kills all essential soil-borne microbes and significantly retards crop both growth and nutritional content. This sterilant is used as an anti-bacterial agent in hospitals, which hopefully highlights just how effective it is at killing good and bad microbes alike.
A better alternative would be Sulphate of Potash as the extra Sulphur it contains is vital for grass productivity and growth.
Phosphate is an essential nutrient for root growth and development.
When a root grows it produces an exudate [slimy layer on the surface of the root acting as a lubricant] that is full of sugars and other attractive elements that the soil borne microbes feed on.
Without access to this nutrient the grassland will not thrive, resulting in greater expense due to the use of ad-lib feeding for deer and horses.