Soil compaction is a problem many producers face, but one they often overlook. Paying attention to the problem is important because soil compaction can reduce your forage yields and slow forage establishment. That can cost you a lot of money in the long run.
When soil particles are pressed together, it reduces pore space and aeration and damages the soil structure, which reduces the soil’s ability to retain moisture. You know what happens when soil can’t retain moisture – runoff and poor drainage.
Compacted soil also deAccording to Dr. Jeff Lehmkuler, UK Extension beef nutritionist, and Dr. Ray Smith, UK Extension forage specialist, you can take some simple steps to prevent and reduce the severity of soil compaction. First, knowing your soil type and soil properties can help you make management decisions. Soils higher in clay and low in organic matter have a greater potential for compaction. Focus on building organic matter in the soil to develop a good soil structure while you decrease soil bulk density.
If you can keep a thick stand of forages, you can increase manure distribution. Reducing tillage can build soil organic matter. Try to control and reduce wheel traffic, especially on wet soils.
Planting a tillage radish in severely compacted areas is another way to reduce compaction. This plant provides a thick ground cover, and its large tap roots can penetrate compacted soils. Be sure to plant a forage-type radish if you intend to graze the pasture. Many producers plant a forage radish with a mixture of annual ryegrass or cereal rye.
Consider installing high-traffic pads around waterers, feeders and gates. If you regularly move feeding areas, you can prevent any one area from becoming severely compacted.
For more information on preventing or reducing soil compaction, contact either the Hardin County Extension Office or the Hardin County Natural Resource Conservation Service. You may also visit https://grazer.ca.uky.edu/ for more resources on managing forages.
Some other timely Forage Tips for May. Hopefully you’ve started hay harvests for quality forage.
• Consider making baleage to facilitate timely cutting.
• Seed warm season grasses for supplemental forage once soil temperature is at 60 degrees Fareinheight.
• Clip, graze or make hay to prevent seedhead formation.
• Rotate pastures based on height rather than time.
• Consider temporary electric fencing to subdivide larger pastures and exclude areas for mechanical harvesting.
• Scout pastures for summer annual weeds and control when small.