You & your horses CAN help to save the planet...Mar 07, 2021
Seriously, you might be amazed at what you and your horse/s can do to help in the fight against climate change!
Five ways you and your horse/s can help to save the planet...
1. Maintain a healthy length and abundance of pasture...
Short grass plants are better than no grass (but then so are weeds) but long, thick grass is the best of all. Pasture plants sequester carbon.
Firstly you need to become familiar with the term carbon sequestration which is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the goal of reducing global climate change.
You may not know it yet but if you own/manage land for horses you have the power to become a champion sequester of carbon!
Good biodiverse (tall) pasture has a very high carbon storage capacity. Much more so than lawns and golf courses for example. Grass plants have roots that are as long and abundant underground as above ground - in other words, what you see above ground is mirrored underground in the root system. As the plants grow taller their roots thicken and reach further down.
Good biodiverse (tall) pasture has a very high carbon storage capacity.
When the plants are grazed their roots die back temporarily, which builds up organic matter (and carbon) in the soil. And then new roots regrow as the plant above ground regrows. This is one way that carbon is taken out of the atmosphere and stored in the soil.
Each acre (4000 square meters) of pasture produces enough oxygen for 64 people a day. One acre of well-managed grass area stores about 417.305 Kilograms of carbon per year. Ref: how-much-oxygen-does-grass-produce-sustainable-future-for-2050
Avoid overgrazing as it damages the root system, reducing its capacity to store carbon (it also stresses the plants and makes them higher in sugar per mouthful). The shorter the grass the shorter the root system. Overgrazing leads to bare soil which rapidly loses carbon to the atmosphere.
Overgrazing leads to bare soil which rapidly loses carbon to the atmosphere.
Think about a ploughed field with exposed soil, you cannot see it but carbon is being lost to the atmosphere at a rapid rate. So now you know, established well managed (grazed) pasture is good for the environment, and disturbed bare soil is not.
2. Increase the biodiversity in your pasture...
Biodiversity includes the animal and plant life on a given area of land. Animals include mammals, birds, bats, insects etc. Plants include pasture grasses, legumes, even weeds etc. The more biodiversity there is in a given area the healthier that ecosystem is. A healthy ecosystem is less reliant on additional fertilizers/herbicides etc. and is more resilient to the effects of climate change, diseases, and pests.
Here is a simple example: trees that are planted for shelter provide habitat for a huge number of animals that in turn help to manage the environment for your horse/s, the land etc. So, certain birds and certain bats eat problem insects by the thousands. At the same time, those trees (just like grasses) take carbon from the atmosphere and deposit it in the biomass of the trees and in the soil. The trees also shade the land and reduce the temperature extremes. The trees might also be used as windbreaks/as part of a fenceline. The list of benefits goes on.
Trees that are planted for shelter provide habitat for a huge number of animals that in turn help to manage the environment for your horse/s, the land etc.
So, even though you are managing your land for your horses, you need to think about the biodiversity of that land. The really good news is it is not difficult when you know how. You will be creating a healthier place for your horses to live and at the same time helping the planet - a win-win.
Another great way to increase biodiversity is linked to the first point, avoid overgrazing. By not overgrazing you are allowing different plants to have a chance to thrive, especially the ones that cannot cope with too much grazing pressure. This not only has benefits for your horse's diet, but encourages other plant and animal species to thrive alongside your horses.
3. Create and maintain healthy soil...
Every tonne of carbon stored in the soil is a tonne not in the atmosphere. You can help store carbon in the soil in two ways:
- By maintaining good ground (plant) cover.
- By increasing organic matter in the soil.
Soils under pasture have higher stored carbon levels than those under crops as they have a higher root to shoot ratio, are undisturbed (as opposed to ploughed up every year) and have lower rates of decomposition. Old established pasture that is never ploughed up is especially valuable for storing carbon. These old grass 'meadows' are exceptionally valuable for the environment but unfortunately now very scarce.
So by learning how to become a 'Equiculture Grass Farmer' you will learn how to nurture pasture plants so that you grow healthy plants (for healthy horses) while at the same time sequestering carbon into the soil - wow, how great is that! People love this concept that we teach at our talks - what talks? Once Covid is over we will be back to doing talks - watch this space). Meanwhile, you can sign up for our free mini-course Horses, Pasture and Grazing to get you started (it consists of several short videos that take a total of just one hour to watch) www.equiculture.net/equiculture-free-mini-course
4. Reduce your reliance on bought-in, supplementary feed...
By increasing the diversity, quality and quantity of feed that your land produces and by reducing the off-site production and transport of feed to your property you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint (and your costs).
Horse feed is increasing in price and will continue to do so as the pressure for land increases. So it also makes good economic sense to maximize the feed production of your land (even though that will be mainly pasture/hay/foggage). Many horses need more fibre and less concentrates anyway.
Additional land used to produce horse feed is a significant component of total agriculture. So, a large amount of agricultural land is used to feed horses, but most horse properties could improve (pasture/hayfoggage) production and help to reduce this amount.
Horse feed is increasing in price and will continue to do so as the pressure for land increases.
As pasture is a more efficient carbon sink than land used for cropping, we can make a huge difference by improving the productivity and health of our land which reduces both our costs and our carbon footprint.
Again, learn how to become an Equiculture Grass Farmer and reap the rewards! www.equiculture.net/equiculture-free-mini-course
5. Improve the ways that you manage manure...
The subject of manure management on a horse property is usually fraught with myths. Such as horse manure is bad for the land. This is due to certain outdated beliefs. Stick with us and we will guide you through the minefield and teach you how to utilize the manure (black gold) that your horses produce.
There are usually various ways that you can improve manure management on a horse property and it depends if that manure is stable manure or manure in the paddocks.
Stable manure can be composted and used on the land to improve the organic matter in your soil. However, a poorly managed compost pile can actually produce high levels of methane, which is 26 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
To ensure efficient decomposition, ensure your compost heap is well aerated by frequent turning or by the addition of ventilation. The simplest way of doing this is to drill holes into plastic pipes and insert them into your compost heap.
Chickens can help to manage stable manure (and collected paddock manure)! By allowing them to scatter through the manure, 'clean' it (eat parasite eggs and weed seeds), add their own manure you are creating a valuable and natural fertilizer. You can then spread all that back on the land to vastly increase organic matter. There are certain things you will need to learn about this subject first if you are thinking of doing this. Stay in touch.
Chickens can help to manage stable manure (and collected paddock manure)!
For paddock manure, the absolute best way to maximize the positives is to harness the amazing power of dung beetles (look out for a video/article on the subject coming soon to this blog). Dung beetles have so many benefits for the wider environment, your time, your budget etc. etc. they are a whole subject in themselves. We call them the world's manure management experts - absolutely NOTHING you do when managing manure comes close to what dung beetles can do.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to making changes, especially when you feel like you are 'swimming against the tide' and you feel like you are the only person who seems to care. But if even if you just make very small changes, say you improve things by just 10% each year, you will still see big improvements and you will be moving in the right direction.
Make sure you check out our main website (www.equiculture.net) for videos and articles, not just about sustainable horse keeping but rider biomechanics too.
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