ACCORDING to grassland and nutrition specialist John Corbett of Coolmore Stud, analysis is the key to knowing, not guessing, what your nutrition quantities are. Analysis provides facts and facts are the best tool with which to create a balanced ration and to optimise every stage of grassland management for optimum results both on stock and the environment.

Certain nutrients can be toxic and over supplementing can be a problem. For instance, much Irish soil can be seleniferous and so if you supplement selenium on top of that, then the animal can be in receipt of too much. Close analyses of the soil and other external factors can counteract any imbalances, as Corbett highlights. “When reseeding for hay we look closely for antagonistic nutrients and make sure they are within or below safe thresholds.”

Coolmore horses are fed 60% grass as hay in winter and 90% grass in summer and the team keep a close eye on the seasonal fluctuations in nutrient levels. By keeping analytical records it is possible to monitor trends, and if nutrients fall away the team can positively affect that with informed decisions to increase nutrient levels to optimum levels.

Antagonistic minerals can become a problem with soil fertility and vital microbrial activity and can interfere in the absorption of essential nutrients. At Coolmore they know the nutrient value of the grass throughout the year and they know the requirements of the horses at all stages of their lives.

Coolmore doesn’t graze sheep but many small farm operations do and Corbett offers up some helpful advice when I ask about their use. “Sheep should be taken off land by November/December as grass leaf needs to be at 6cm once the temperature rises to enable photosynthesis and encourage enough good grass for spring grazing.”

In terms of paddock and field soil health, aeration is top of the list, Corbett is quick to extol the virtues of the ring roller over a flat roller. Coolmore uses Cambridge ring rollers because, as he explains: “Compaction is a huge problem for pasture. Harrowing and rolling are the backbone of good growth and the ring roller doesn’t break the structures in the way a flat roller does.”

The main take-homes from the Coolmore team which all of us can apply are soil health through good aeration, regular soil sampling to inform management of nutrients, and careful consideration of stock-numbers grazing grassland.