Good grazing systems start with the soil

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Dec 2, 2008
Good grazing systems start with the soil

There’s renewed interest in pastures and grazing systems, and we need to remember that good pastures start with the soil. The first step to managing pasture soils is using the soil survey to identify what you have. Many farmers know the soil types present on their farms, yet never take the time to fully understand the characteristics of each soil. The introductory portion of the soil survey contains valuable information for every soil found in your county.

This includes: texture, depth of topsoil, drainage, slope, past erosion problems, and suitability for various uses (including pasture land).

Recently, much of this information is available from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service over the Internet at http://web

The bottom line is that you can’t change the inherent properties of your soils, but by understanding them, you can manage them to maximize their productivity.

You’ll need soil samples— take them to a depth of six inches. But avoid adding significant amounts of live plant and root tissue from the pasture sod. At least 20 soil cores taken randomly in the area that you are testing are necessary to get a reliable sample. Sampled soil should be combined together, mixed, and air-dried.

Brown paper “lunch” bags work well, as they are inexpensive and dry easily. Make sure to mark your sample bags clearly. When dealing with soils, it’s easy to get wrapped up in numbers, management practices, and potential increases in productivity. Ultimately, it is imperative to keep an eye on the big picture and to plan thoroughly.

Ensure that what you do maintains or improves profitability, and that you have the time and means to accomplish your objectives.

Farming is an art just as much as it is a science; it requires constant evaluation and demands that you continually adjust your management and expectations based on what is happening.

Your soil is the foundation of your grazing system; it is important to understand it and take care of it. — WLJ