I have been fortunate enough to be working with the Galloway Stud at Woburn for the past two seasons. The stud specialises in producing foals for the bloodstock industry. The improvements in the sward function, the corresponding increase in the condition of the mares and their foals has been immensely satisfying to see.

On my initial visit, I realised that the soil was just stalled thankfully rather than completely broken by mechanical intervention (ploughing), or years of artificial fertiliser applications. Despite what received wisdom says, artificial fertiliser stops the essential soil microbes from interacting with the plant roots so that the sward becomes increasingly reliant on artificial applications.

The grass then needs increasing levels of costly artificial fertiliser to survive, rather than encouraging the natural nutrient cycling process to feed the grass. Just consider that trees are not fed with artificial fertiliser, but they survive and thrive! Grass can be encouraged to survive and interact with the soil microbes to thrive too.

Soil analysis

A typical example of the Albrecht soil analysis from the Galloway Stud:



  1. The soil type of Loamy Sand is fundamentally an extremely low productivity soil type. This is because as the analysis demonstrates the soil only contains 13 per cent silt and two per cent clay. Both soil minerals have the necessary negative charge to hold on to the cations (e.g., calcium; magnesium; copper) for the grass to utilise, whereas the 85 per cent sand is dead and inert (no charge) and consequently only provides pore space to allow the air and water to permeate the soil.
  2. The Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) is a measure of how well the soil can function. It is assessed from a combination of organic matter, and the total cations contained in the soil. To achieve a CEC of 14.60 meq/100g of soil from an elementally impoverished soil type of Loamy Sand is exceptional. The optimal target would be 15.00 meq/100g of soil for a sand based soil.Soil particle
  1. The excellent 4.7 per cent organic matter (Dumas test analysis) that has built up over decades through the natural cycle of growth and decay is the driver for future productivity for the grass.
  2. There are two methods of analysing the soil organic matter content, Loss of Ignition (LOI) and Dumas:
    • Loss of Ignition (LOI) tends to be more unreliable as if the soil has a high calcium content that will be burnt along with the carbon, skewing the results.
    • The Dumas test is a prescriptive laboratory standard methodology for assessing soil organic matter content and therefore results can be directly compared and contrasted.

Nutritional interpretation

  1. Calcium levels are statistically low to good. Based on the ionic weight of calcium in relation to the other elements and not just the pH.
    • Calcium is an essential part of cell division within all pants and animals as it forms the middle lamella when cells divide.
    • Calcium can affect boron uptake and utilisation, but the current boron soil levels are likely to be high enough to mitigate against this happening.
    • The Calcium / Magnesium ratio indicates the nutritional value of the grass. A high ratio means that the stock are eating lignin (tree bark) and not accessing adequate nutrition. In this case both elements are statistically in proportion to each other.
  2. Phosphate levels are good to high.
    • Plant availability will be a potential issue due to adsorption into the soil colloid and onto the iron, which will impede productivity potential.
    • Phosphate stimulates root growth, and energy production.
    • Phosphate plays a key role in grass palatability.
    • Phosphate is an anion, with an extremely high negative charge. Therefore, it readily binds to the positively charged cations in the soil, and especially iron – and iron levels are extremely high.
    • Phosphate is a crucial part of protein synthesis, and essential for the hydrolysis of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) into ADP (Adenosine diphosphate) ATP releases energy quickly to drive the respiration process and therefore productivity.
    • A robust root mass will feed microbial activity and especially the beneficial Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungal (AMF) that create by-products to liberate nutrients bound in the soil colloid for plant utilisation – particularly phosphate.
    • So, by encouraging Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) development with aeration that will help liberate phosphate. AMF produces significant levels of glomalin protein that is specifically designed to release phosphate from the soil for plants to utilise.plant biomass
  1. Magnesium levels are statistically high.
    • Magnesium regulates the uptake of phosphorous; structural component of ribosomes; major constituent of chlorophyll production; and plays a crucial part in transforming sugar and starch within the plant to utilisable energy.
    • Because the hydrated magnesium ions are larger than calcium, and they become relatively easy to leach, plant availability of magnesium will be restricted – especially in a dry spring and summer..
    • Foliar applications are highly advised as plant availability will be limited during periods of drought, which can induce Grass Tetany.
  2. Potassium levels are good for grazing grass.
    • Potassium drives Transpiration – the movement of dissolved nutrients in water up the xylem tubes in the plant to sites of utilisation.
    • Sulphur increases potash availability, and soil sulphur levels are low. But sulphur availability will increase with microbial liberation of the excellent organic matter.
    • Hydrated magnesium (as a result of excessive rain events) will also impede potash availability.
    • One of the most notable advantages of available potassium is that it is integral to increasing the hardiness and winter survival of young grass plants
    • Grass Tetany occurs when the ungulates diet is too high in potassium, which essentially means that the extra cellular fluid surrounding the bran, spine and muscles is permanently high in potassium. This upsets the delicate sodium / potassium ratio and as a consequence the nerves and muscles cannot relax, creating restless hyperactive animals that lack body condition and display a lack of ability to increase weight.
  3. Sodium levels are statistically good.
    • Sodium helps to regulate the pH and blood pressure in horses.
    • Sodium also ensures that protein and energy metabolism are not impeded and enables the transport of nutrients across the cell walls.

Ridgemont Gardens micronutrient analysis

ridgemont gardens

  1. Copper levels are extremely low. Copper plays a significant part in the efficient function of the liver and the renal system, as well as playing a crucial part in horse fecundity.
  2. Zinc levels are good. Zinc, as with copper, plays a significant part in the efficient function of the liver and the renal system within the horse.
  3. Manganese stimulates carbohydrate metabolism from the grass / forage, and energy release in the horses. Levels are good but note point 14 below.
  4. Boron levels are good. Boron is required to stimulate strong feet in ungulates, and for overall bone growth and density – especially in young, or old, animals.
  5. Iron is required for haemoglobin production, which delivers oxygen around the body. Levels are extremely high, and this will have the undesired adverse effect of significantly reducing the availability of manganese, and to some extent, copper – this is also compounded by the relatively high phosphate levels.
  6. Sulphur is required for protein hormones such as insulin, and the keratin in hair and hooves. Levels are negligible due to leaching readily through the soil, and it will be imperative to increase the availability by aeration of the organic matter (and ideally a sulphur application) to ensure that manganese become available for plant, and therefore horse, utilisation.
  7. Molybdenum levels are low. Molybdenum enables the soil to liberate nitrogen for the plants to utilise.
    • Be aware that the soil microbes readily liberate molybdenum for the plants to utilise in the spring once the soil temperatures increase. But, if a drought occurs soon afterwards the high molybdenum enters the whole plant further prevents horses from absorbing copper on consumption. This will have an adverse impact on fecundity.

Sward improvement strategies

  1. Ridgemont Gardens required an application (for at least the next two years) of Polysulphate @ 125Kg / Ha (14 per cent sulphate of potash; six per cent magnesium; 17 per cent calcium; 48 per cent SO3 = 19.2Kg of S) Applied as product per hectare.
    • Polysulphate is an ‘organic’ product as the analysis is exactly as the mineral is extracted from the soil. Therefore, unlike inorganic fertiliser, the function of the soil microbes is not impeded by its use.
      • Polysulphate is certified by DEFRA as an Organic fertiliser.
    • The sulphate of potash is ideal for feeding the grass and assisting with manganese liberation from the soil, improving grass constitution to robust levels, and crucially not impeding microbial production. Conversely the more widely used Muriate of Potash breaks down into muriatic acid which acts as a soil sterilant killing the essential soil microbes.
  2. An application of 2.0 L/Ha Stimplex (Organic seaweed extract) was sprayed as a liquid foliar feed and crucially as a soil conditioner. Where practical the seaweed extract was sprayed in the autumn and spring to boost plant health and productivity.
    • Stimplex contain Betaines that reduce plant sensitivity to abiotic stress, such as cold, heat and crucially drought stress.
      • Fucoidan in seaweed provides protection from intense sunlight and adverse environments.
      • Mannitol increases the plants tolerance to osmotic stress and increases the plants natural responses to pathogens.

Laminarin in the seaweed encourages pant growth and elicits the plants defence response to both stress and disease.

  • The Alginate acid in seaweed acts as a soil conditioner and improves soil structure.
    • Alginates contain the carbohydrate mannitol which chelates the trace elements in the seaweed, and the soil, rendering them available for plant use.
  • Salts from the seaweed combine with soil molecules to aggregate them, creating more air pockets and space for water ingress and egress.
  • The microorganisms in seaweed also help reduce nutrient leaching  as they help bind nutrients into the root zone.
  1. A regimen of regular harrowing and knife-aeration has also been implemented. This has the effect of allowing air to enter the soil which then stimulates microbial activity to liberate a small amount of nitrogen from the atmosphere for grass and microbes to use as an energy source.
  2. Worms help convert the organic matter in the soil into invaluable humus for plant utilisation. There are visibly more Anecic worm casts over all the Galloway paddocks in the second year, and even in the chalk based gateways. A tangible sign of soil improvement and sward productivity.
    • Twenty-five worms per square meter will eventually convert 50 tonnes of digested soil into approximately 80 kilos of nitrogen for plant utilisation.
    • Epigeic worms are found in / on the soil surface litter that they feed on.
      • Small, narrow, and red in colour
    • Endogeic worms are the most common worms found in the topsoil, they create temporary horizontal channels that increase air and water ingress.
      • Pale coloured and curl up when handled.
    • Anecic worms create permanent vertical channels up to a meter deep and let air and water into the soil at depth. They are a fantastic indicator of soil health as they thrive in ‘undisturbed’ soil environments. Ploughing easily kills them!
      • Black-headed, and as long and thick as a pencil


Anecic worm casts visible in profusion, even in the chalk based gateways.


Tangible effects in the horses

Galloway Stud need to be generating healthy foals and optimising the condition of the mares both during and after pregnancy so that they produce colostrum laden milk for their foals.

Horses’ evolutionary propensity is to eat grass to create energy and access the vitamins and minerals they need to thrive. So, generating healthy nutritious grass is the best, and most cost-effective, means of getting nutrition into horses.

Mares and foals

Immunoglobulin G (IgG) is the most abundant type of antibody and is found in all bodily fluids. The function of Immunoglobulin G (IgG) is to protect against bacterial and viral infections.

Foals possess the ability to produce infection-fighting antibodies (IgG), from the moment they are born. Crucially what they do not possess is pre-existing Immunoglobulin G in their bloodstream at the time of birth to protect them from the onslaught of bacteria and other infection-inducing microorganisms in their new environment.

“This lack of maternal transfer of immunity is somewhat of an evolutionary drawback, leaving foals highly susceptible to threatening infections, especially, pneumonia, joint infections, and sepsis,” said Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D.

Foals therefore require a healthy meal of colostrum (the mare’s first milk is laden with IgGs) to temporarily provide immunity until the foal’s own immune system begins full production. Time is of the essence though as a foal loses its ability to absorb IgGs from colostrum after 18 to 24 hours.

Kentucky Equine Research: “Measure the foal’s Immunoglobulin (IgG, specifically) levels between 18 and 24  hours of life to ensure sufficient passive transfer has been achieved. Ideally, IgG levels exceed eight grams per litre.”

Will Hillier, Galloway Stud Foreman, says: “IgG scores ae taken within 12 hours of birth. Twelve is good, and 8 to 10 needs plasms at £400 a treatment. Last year the highest IgG score was 16.2 grams per litre, and the lowest was 14 grams per litre. We have not had those good levels before.”

“This year (2022) the colostrum IgG scores were exceptional. So, 26 grams per litre is good, and we were around 24 before. Most mares this year were at 29 grams per litre, with the lowest at 26 grams per litre. The maiden mares were exceptional (for maiden mares) at 31 grams per litre.”

“Good food, a good environment, content animals and we can win in those crucial 12 hours after birth. Foals have better development this year, and even the one that was sitting back on its hinds recovered faster than we anticipated.”

“Mares are making high grade milk for longer, and a healthy environment makes it easier for the foals to grow. The weather obviously plays a big part, but the contribution you (Lordington Park Agronomy) made has made a huge difference to foal and mare health, as well as saving us a lot of unwarranted expense we have needed in the past.”



These are some of last year’s (2021) foals, looking healthy and enjoying the stimulation from the topography. The field could not be ‘topped’ and harrowed last year to stimulate new growth, as weather intervened. Despite that the youngsters are thriving in their environment.

Some of Galloway Stud’s 2022 young foals and mares looking healthy and content. Marvellous to see.