Good Grazing Starts with the Soil

Good pastures start at the root--and those roots need soil. The first step to managing pasture soils is using a soil survey to identify what you have. While you can't change the inherent properties of your soils, with understanding you can manage them to maximize their productivity.

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).

For more detailed information, see the new U of M Extension publication "Managing Soils for Greater Grazing Productivity." Click on "agriculture."

Recently, much of this information became available from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on the Internet at  

When taking soil samples to utilize this resource, 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.

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.

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