This winter just doesn’t seem to want to end; it will be one of those winters that will probably be talked about or compared to for several decades…I hope. Someday younger people will say, “Do you remember the winter of fourteen,” instead of 1978. This too will pass.
It has been a tough winter. I hope that pastures had been left with some forage residual and adequate fertility, and therefore ready for spring! What is the first thing a person should consider when we mention fertility… a soil test of course! A soil test is always a good place to start! Soil fertility on both pasture and hay fields is very important if we want good nutritious forage production. Without adequate fertility, we should expect lower yields and lower quality livestock feed which also will usually mean increased inputs elsewhere.
I see people all the time that have tried just ‘getting by’ With lower levels of nutrients, especially phosphorus and potassium, you are doing just that, which results in lower yields, lower quality forages, and lower carrying capacities. Just like an annual field crop, your forage crop needs to be fertilized and managed.
Soil fertility samples should be taken that match up similar soils and management. If a field is used for hay, then it should be tested separately from a field that is only grazed. Fields are rarely all the same soil and also may not have the same use history. These are clues to doing a better job on collecting those samples. Different soil colors, textures, land use, and even slope and slope direction can influence soil fertility. Sample accordingly!
You really need to make sure you collect a representative sample. Depending on the size of the field, you want at least ten to twenty cores per composite sample. The fewer the samples collected for the composite, the less accurate it is; the more samples collected, the more accurate it is. Samples should be taken at the depth of about four inches. Deeper sampling on pasture could be skewed a bit, especially pH, and lead to possible over application. Avoid sampling in heavily used areas and areas close to rocked roads. Mix those individual cores in a plastic bucket, breaking up individual cores and ideally let air dry before putting in the sampling bags and sending off.