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Fall Soil and Forage Tests

(post by Jason) Late October is an easy time of year to get used to here in Middle Tennessee. In my opinion the weather can’t be improved upon with lots of cool, crisp mornings and warm, sunny afternoons. The warm season grasses have largely gone by and because of this we are entering the easiest and most forgiving time of year to transition horses from stalls to pasture. It’s a great time to be outside watching horses, and it’s an equally great time to get some soil samples done and fall soil amendments applied. We’re in the middle of all of that around here right now.

With our short winters here in the mid south, fall soil amendments play an important role in determining the yield and nutritional content of our spring grass and we pay a lot of attention to the nutritional profile of our forages, including both pasture and hay. As a general rule if the soil is deficient in nutrients, so the forages grown on that soil will also be deficient in nutrients and this is particularly true of trace minerals. This fact is widely overlooked in production agriculture today as it’s considered easier and more cost effective to supplement additional minerals in the diet. I agree with mineral supplementation if it is done in a nutritionally correct way; it is a form of “cheap” insurance against nutritional deficiency. But I don’t like to rely solely on my insurance policy to provide adequate mineral nutrition. To that end, we amend our soils in order to produce healthy mineralized forages which will require minimal additional mineral supplementation.

Perhaps the most important fall soil amendment is applying lime to adjust the pH. Most Middle Tennessee soils are naturally pretty acidic, varying from pH 6.5 all the way down to pH 4.5 dependent on location and parent material. Soils that fall below pH 6 need to be limed often enough to raise the pH high enough so that pH dependent trace minerals can be efficiently uptaken by plants. We’re lucky in this respect. Our soils are naturally pretty fertile, at least by Tennessee standards, and they maintain pH values between 6 and 6.5 without the addition of lime. Potassium (K) fertilizer can also be spread in the fall where it is necessary. Our soil tests indicate that we don’t need to worry about spreading additional potash which is good news for us !

Nearly all middle Tennessee soils are naturally very high in elemental sulfur. Even if the pH is correct, high soil sulfur will bind necessary minerals like magnesium and calcium as well as necessary trace minerals like copper, zinc, selenium and more. Where it’s possible to do so, I amend the soil by applying mineral and trace mineral fertilizers as the most cost and labour efficient way of ensuring that forages grown on that soil will have a decent mineral profile.

Because trace minerals and lime tend to get released fairly slowly, and because early spring is often wet in these parts, I like to apply trace minerals late in the fall with the thought that some will get used this winter and most will get used next spring and early summer when they are most needed.

I’m going to insert an important caveat here. In terms of equine mineral nutrition, getting the basics right is really important but it won’t save you in every case. There are always going to be situations and animals that require more time and effort in order to put them right and this farm is no different than any other in that respect.

Winston keeping an eye on things while Fonzi, Chimano and Asterik nap

Romeo was just a few feet away from them also taking a nap

George and Asterik

We fondly refer to the Triple Crown Senior as “Triple Bricks” sometimes. It is a fabulous feed and our only complaint is it loves to clump together in the bag like one large brick of feed, making it a real treat to try and pour it out into the feed containers. Jason likes to karate chop each bag a few times before dumping to combat this.

Darby, Alex and Lighty grazing

Renny, Sebastian, Sam, Dutch and Murphy were keep a close eye on me while I prepared breakfast

Alex and Darby on the run

Lighty, Alex and Darby

Cinnamon, MyLight and Calimba (yes a new face!)

a better picture of Calimba, our newest resident

Calimba and her mom flying high over a jump (Flashpoint photo)

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