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Managing Your Pasture from the Soil Up

While grass is the obvious tell tale sign that your pasture is either flourishing or languishing away, it is the dirt that tells the in depth story about what is going on. While you know that the addition of fertilizer is vital, it is also true that the cost of fertilizing even a medium sized pasture is steadily increasing, especially in response to the closure of a number of fertilizer plants which were unable to remain profitable when the natural gas prices hit record highs.

Yet as any horse owner will be able to tell you, ignoring the fertilization needs of your pasture will have dire consequences to your property and will seriously impede your horses’ ability to enjoy a healthy pasture for exercise and feed. Add to this the expense of having to effectively redo your entire pasture for failure of fertilizing it as needed and it becomes clear rather quickly that you will need to add the nutrients to your soil so that the grasses will continue to grow, develop healthy root systems, and stay healthy.

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To be sensitive to the rising costs of fertilizers, it is a wise choice to test your soil in the spring before adding any kind of fertilizer. This will ensure that you only add what your soil truly needs, while avoiding paying for chemicals that are not necessary. There are of course several steps to testing soil successfully, and first and foremost you will need to divide the pasture into sections. If possible work with a stainless steel sampling probe to take up about 15 cores per area, but if you do not have the tool, your spade will do just fine. Using clean plastic buckets, place the samples into the containers. The goal is to get a good understanding of the average pasture area, thus you will want to avoid taking soil samples from areas that have burned, are ditches, or any other areas that are contained. Separate samples should be collected from areas where you have previously treated the grass differently or those patches of the pasture where the grass is responding differently to treatment.
Keep in mind that if the area you are considering for fertilization is already host to growing grasses, you will only need to sample soil about four inches deep, while a barren area where you wish to seed or establish grasses, needs to be sampled to a depth of eight inches. It is noteworthy that the sample areas should be no larger than 15 acres. Additionally, make sure you wait until the soil is not saturated with water since this can influence the findings and also make treatment of the areas difficult. Obviously you will want to make sure you properly identify each sample after you mix it, and if you want special attention to be paid to a sample from a problem area, indicate this on the labels as well.

Read the next horse pasture article on Planting Better Pastures.
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