I’ve come around to the notion that our farm may not have what it takes to make great pasture for animals. After all, when you think of areas around this country that are known for great grazing, our area doesn’t come to mind. Southern Maryland is known for tobacco, not pasture. So when you think of nice pastures supporting healthy animals, what places pop into your head first? Maybe the Great Plains, where the buffalo roamed, or Kentucky, known for its multi-million dollar thoroughbreds? Great grazing areas for sure, but why exactly did grazing animals do so well in these spots?
Maybe the buffalo just liked wide-open spaces and Kentuckians were into race horses. But there’s way more to it than that! The Great Plains had highly mineralized soil and just enough rainfall to keep the ecology going, but not so much that minerals leached out of the soil. This climate supported high-quality grasses,very nutritious eats for the buffalo, for millennia! And Kentucky had soils with lots of calcium and phosphorus, key ingredients for strong bones. Horses could be pushed to the limit without leg breaks. So the mint julep lovers didn’t choose Kentucky out of the blue. The horse racing culture was made possible by the quality of the soil.
So what does this mean for our farm? Well, for sure we don’t have quality pasture right now. I’d be reluctant to put animals on our pasture. Sure, we have grass, so the animals would get full enough, but they’d be missing the minerals and vitamins needed for easy health, good birth weights, and quality meat. To expect this out of the soil we have right now would be setting ourselves up for a major letdown!
Ultra low organic matter is just one of our soil’s problems. Another is rainfall. We average about 2.5 to 3 inches of rain a month here, every month. The climate is super nice for humans, and the grass keeps growing. However, this much rainfall leaches minerals from the soil. Calcium, one of the most important soil nutrients, leaches very easily, sinking below the root zone with excess moisture. So even if our area’s soils were highly mineralized from glaciers hundreds of thousands of years ago, our soils probably didn’t hold nutrients very long because of the wet climate. I’ve heard that high quality pastures have around 3,000 lbs. of calcium per acre available to plants. According to our soil tests, our fields have around 900 lbs. per acre available! Yikes!
We can have quality pasture here in Southern Maryland,we just have a few cards stacked against us. We need to add tons and tons of calcitic lime and increase the organic matter so the soil can hold the calcium. Also, we need to add Boron, which at 0.2 ppm is nearly gone from our soil, because it delivers Calcium to plants. Calcium will probably leach every year, so we’ll likely be fertilizing every year to approach the 3,000 lbs. per acre amount and keep it near there. Thank goodness lime is relatively cheap, about $30 per ton and thank goodness we have a small farm!