Horse Master _ Jan Schut_ Henriette Hoeve

Forage the top priority at Henriette Hoeve

At their boarding stables, Jan and Huug Schut pay a great deal of attention to effective forage management. In recent years, they have invested in grassland renewal by using specific grasses and herbs. This is partly motivated by a need to respond to, and prepare for, future challenges.

Horses require different forage than cows

Up until 2000, the farm was home to dairy cows. A little more than twenty years later and the farm has been completely transformed. The original cubicle barn was converted into stables. This was followed by the addition of more stables and an indoor arena. By 1995, they had already started stabling several dozen boarding horses. Henriette Hoeve, as the farm has long been known, gradually expanded to become one of the largest boarding stables in the Netherlands.

As a former dairy farmer, Jan Schut is aware of the importance of good forage and what is required to grow it. Jan:

We've always been passionate about forage, as good forage allows us to really make a difference.

He goes on to underline the difference between horses and cows in this respect. “Grass intended for horses is more hard wearing and contains more structure." Cows are fed for the aim of realising maximum production, while the horses here are used for recreational purposes. Feed values are therefore less important than other aspects, such as palatability and health.

On farm forage production

Allround

Thanks to the expanse of land surrounding the farm, the Schut brothers have complete control over forage production. They’re both aware of the benefits this provides. 

We dictate the quality ourselves and create a uniform forage composition. That’s important as horses don’t cope very well with ration changes.

On the farm, some of the grass is cut to make hay in plastic wrapped bales. Approximately 1,200 bales are needed every year. “We hate dust and wrapping in plastic also means the hay retains more moisture. But it’s not silage”, he emphasises. The first cut is usually done at the end of May. This is already a pretty heavy cut. They proceed to remove half of the total number of bales from the land.

During the season, part of the ration goes to the horses in the meadow. The horses don’t graze on grass that is too long, in order to prevent them consuming too much fructan and therefore reducing the risk of laminitis. The horses are outside for 365 days a year, only remaining inside during extreme weather conditions. The light sandy soil means that water drains easily and the fields remain easily accessible for the horses. Last summer, the cutting and grazing plots were intensely irrigated to ensure continuous grass growth. This might cost a lot of money, but a sufficient supply of good grass is much more important.

Maintenance of the meadows

Good meadow maintenance is essential to ensure that all the horses can enjoy grazing every day. This also requires proper fertilisation and weed control. Meadows are structurally overseeded to ensure good, strong grass and maintain a dense sward. We use the grass seed mixture Horse Master, which was developed especially for horses. “This is important for the yield and also limits the growth of ragwort." It also prevents the horses from ingesting sand while grazing.

In 2021, the grass seed was supplemented on some meadows with the NutriHerb herb mix and Tasty Herbs from Barenburg. The latter in particular is recommended for horses as it is palatable and safe as forage. In the meadow it offers resistance to drought and improves soil structure. This is partly due to the inclusion of 20 native herbs, including yarrow, wild chicory, rough hawk’s beard, narrow plantain, small burnet and yellow goat’s beard. “The horses seem to really like it, as they walk to these fields without any hesitation." The herb seeded meadows also looked a lot prettier than the other plots during the dry months.

Newly seeded grassland

In the same year, some of the meadows underwent complete renewal, which since the switch was made from cows to horses, hadn’t happened very often. It resulted in a total of nine hectares of newly seeded grassland. More plots will be seeded in the next few years as yields and quality are in slight decline.

The new meadows for cutting hay were sown with the Hay Master mixture, which includes a large proportion of soft-leaved tall fescue. This has more easily digestible cell walls than common tall fescue. This grass type is unique as it can take root up to a metre deep and is therefore very drought resistant. It also uptakes minerals efficiently, has a high dry matter yield and dries faster. “This makes it very suitable for hay."

Jan is very pleased with the yield of the new plots, as thanks to an extra cut this resulted in a 25-30% increase on the old sward. This is expected to further increase when the tall fescue in the mix has been allowed to develop. He underlines the importance of robust high forage yields in the context of an uncertain and challenging future, which could be affected by, among other things, irrigation, fertilisers and weed control. That’s why Schut expects to consistently invest in grass quality over the next few years.