Improving pastures with lime

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by eb, Nov 23, 2003.

  1. eb

    eb Well-Known Member

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    Hi again.

    My place has about 30 acres of pastures/fields, that up until I moved in 5 years ago had not had any animals that I know of for about 40-50 years...as such, I don't think much was ever done to improve the quality or yield of grass.

    Winter is fast approaching, but now that I have a ever increasing amount of animals that need to graze, what can I do to improve for next season, or is it too late already?

    I am thinking that, getting a soil test done, and spreading loads of lime (which I think it needs), will offer some benefits? but will it be enought o justifu the cost?

    In future years, what is the best stratgey for continually improving the fields? I'd prefer not to use any chemical solutions.

    Thanks.
     
  2. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    See if your local library can find you a copy of More Food From Soil Science: The Natural Chemistry of Lime in Agriculture by Dr. V.A. Tiedjens. It is self-published by Growers Fertilizer Solutions, 321 Huron Street, Milan, OH 44846. Don't have a current phone number for them. Dr. Tiedjens was one of their founders.

    (This isn't an ad, but I have a couple of copies extra of this book. I use to give them out to local farmers who, I think, used them for a table leg props. Cost would be $16.50 postpaid.)

    Dr. Tiedjens' basis premise is pH is a poor determinator of the need for adding calcium to soil. There are simply too many factors which affect pH. For example, in some cases Dr. Tiedjens recommended application of what seemed to massive amounts of calcium and it actually resulted in lowering, not raising, pH.

    If you have a soil test done, it will very likely come back saying you need to spread two tons of agricultural lime per acre. Seems to be a constant in all soil tests.

    Dr. Tiedjen recommendation is not to look at pH, but rather have the soil test also include the base exchange of trace elements. One of these will be base saturation of calcium. He found, through his tests, the base saturation needs to be 80% or more. Below that level forages simply will not growth at their full potential.

    How much available calcium is needed to reach 80% base saturation largely depends on what type of soil you have. Sand has the lowest requirment, muck soil has the highest. In a follow-on book: Olean Farms, U.S.A., he gave this formula for the amount of available calcium needed per acre foot in pounds:

    Sand - 400-600
    Lamy sand - 800-160
    Sandy loan - 1600-2400
    Silt loam - 2400-3600
    Clay - 3600-4800
    Clay loam - 4800-6000
    Muck soil - 6000-10,000

    He goes on to say a ton of high magnesium limestone adds 400 pounds of calcium to the soil in the carbonate form, which has little value to the plant until it has become part of the base-exchange complex. (((Thus, the finer the limestone, the quicker it becomes part of the base-exchange complex.))) A ton of high calcium limestone adds 600-800 pounds of calcium to the soil in the carbonate form...

    You also need to be careful applying large amounts of high magnesium limestone as the magnesium can ready excessive levels.

    OK, say you have silt loam soil and the test said you have 1,000 pounds of available calcium to the acre foot (and, by the way, acre foot is usually plow depth, which is 6 2/3"). If you want to shoot for the mid range, you are thus short 2,000 pounds of available calcium (2,400 + 3,600/2 = 3,000 -1,000). You lime spreaders tells you his source is high calcium lime so you figure on 700 pounds in each ton of limestone spread. You are short 2,000, divided by 700, so you need, at a minimum three tons per acre just to bring the base saturation up to 80% in the upper 7 or so inches.

    When I first purchased limestone locally it was $12 per ton spread. Now it is $20 and likely will go to $22 shortly. Say it is $20 ton spread where you are. Your cost of limestone would then be about $60 per acre foot/plow depth.

    Dr. Tiejens would likely recommend bringing the top acre foot/plow depth to 80% and then apply one to two tons per year to replace the calcium which either leaches down into the subsoil or is carried there by earthworms and other soil critters.

    Factors to be considered are the finer the limestone is ground, the more readily it will be available and if you incorporate it into the soil it will ge more readily available since it is incorporated, rather than remain on the surface.

    I don't have my file handy, but there has also been some research done on the foliar application of a calcium surrey with excellent results as far as the plants themselves incorporating the calcium into the soil through their root system. Here basically as pure of a source of calcium is mixed with water and kept aggitated as it is sprayed on the plants several times a year.

    One source of such calcium is plain old gypsum (calcium sulfate). You probably know it better as plaster. It is too expensive for ground spreading, but becomes competitive with spread limestone when foiliar applied. The nice aspect here is you can do it yourself.

    Ken S. in WC TN
     

  3. Steve in Ohio

    Steve in Ohio Well-Known Member

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    eb,
    Proper use of both lime and fertilizer are necessary for good yields.So a soil test is about a must.For best results soil pH needs to be corrected before any fertilizer is added.If you do need to add lime it's payback is over time,like a couple of years.As far as a pasture renovation goes we use a limited tillage program....like a light disking... just enough to expose the soil and cut about 50% of the stand.Thats what we have been working on here this past week,(the weather here has been great for fall tillage)anyway lime and or fertilizer can then be partially incorporated using this method.Seed is then broadcast or drilled in late winter or early spring depending on the condition of the fields.
     
  4. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    You can somewhat replicate Dr. Tiedjens' experiments by growing a plant like corn in say a dozen different containers. Use kernels off of the same ear. Use the same potting soil mix. To each container mix in an increasing amount of limestone. Say it is one heaping tea spoon to the first, two to the second, three to the third, four to the fourth, etc. Now water as equally as possible. You want to try to keep all of the variables except the amount of limestone as constant as possible. A simple test you can do this winter if you have something like a greenhouse or growing area.

    Dr. Tiedjens did his work before the days of the expensive labs and all of their testing equipment. His were more eyeball results. Like the old saying, "If you need statistics to prove your point, it isn't worth proving."

    Ken S. in WC TN
     
  5. charles

    charles Well-Known Member

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    "If you have a soil test done, it will very likely come back saying you need to spread two tons of agricultural lime per acre. Seems to be a constant in all soil tests."


    Yep. That's the absolute truth around here. We laugh about wasting time on getting soil tests done when all they ever say is add lime and 100 lbs N per acre. You could send off limestone gravel, pure spaghnum peat, vermiculite, sand, or clay and get the same recommendation from the State for each "soil".
     
  6. Jena

    Jena Well-Known Member

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    Once you get your testing and application done...one of the best ways to improve pasture is to practice intensive rotational grazing. My pastures have improved considerably, as far as the species that grow, from doing this. We also frost seeded clover into them late last winter. Check and see if that is a viable option for your area.

    Jena
     
  7. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    I am 100 percent in Jena's camp when it comes to rotational grazing to maximize the forage capability of any soil. I just came in from evaluating my pastures to be used for winter grazing. On either side of my place are beef cattle farmers and I see that one man has nearly nothing left to graze and the other has only a few days of grazing remaining. Neither of them do rotational grazing and they both put up lots of hay to carry them through the winter. My pastures have stockpiled fescue in most of the areas and where my cattle have grazed, the grazed areas still appears better than the best of the adjacent neighbors pastures. This is the 3rd winter for me utilizing this technique and I am totally sold on the method. I have been able to increase the cattle headcount and the amount of grass remains abundant and lush. I do keep the fertility up and the ph checked. Why I did not start this practice years ago is a question I often ask myself.
     
  8. A further couple of questions concerning lime. There is only one lime stone spreader for hire in my area- he is tough to get and wants to charge me $250 for spreading 3 tons on my two acre field. Martin Marietta has a lime stone pit nearby where I can purchase ground limestone of about course sand sized particles for $10 per ton- would buying this and spreading it myself by shovel do as well as the ground agricultural type of lime?

    On a related question- My soil is deficient in a number of trace elements and I can also get pulverized granite of course sand sized particles. Would it help my soil to shovel a couple of tons of this over my acres? My soil type is a sandy loam to a loamy sand.
     
  9. I am in the process of reading Malabar Farm for the first time. I think Bromfileds first hand account of what he did to improve the soils on his farms over 50 years ago is still worth reading for inspiration and the instructional value.
     
  10. agmantoo

    agmantoo agmantoo Supporter

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    Spreading the $10 lime on 2 acres is not much of a chore and the application though less uniform by hand is very acceptable in my opinion. I would not pay the for hire person his fee as that is entirely too high.
     
  11. Oxankle

    Oxankle Well-Known Member

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    First, a man making his living spreading limestone would be a fool to take up his time with a job that paid less than his expenses. It costs him as much to go to the pit for 4 tons of lime as it does for 20 tons--about what most spreaders carry. For two acres, haul and spread it yourself.

    The sand-sized particles will not produce available calcium as quickly as the flour-fine lime, but it will produce. Use what is cheap and available.

    I have sand here, a place that was not grazed for close to 40 or farmed for close to 60. All brush until I cleared it and very poor grass. This spring I had it worked with a chisel plow, limed at 3,000 pounds to the acre and then fertilized with a balanced fertilizer. I had only a meadow fertilized, the whole thing limed. The increased production was phenomenal.

    The lime effect was demonstrated by the fact that the areas not fertilized grew almost as well as the areas both limed and fertilized.

    I am a believer in the rotational grazing thing, too. If you keep your animals on a small patch and force them to eat everything there, then move them to another small patch, the rested areas catch up and you have a greater total use of the grass. Left to graze a whole property animals tend to eat that which tastes best to them, and then come back to the tender regrowth. This leads to eradication of the good stuff and a takeover by the less palatable grasses.

    This takes a bit more management, and you have to have water and salt in all the paddocks but it is practicable.
     
  12. mysticokra

    mysticokra Well-Known Member

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    I just had 30 acres limed at 2.5 tons/acre, fertilized and planted in fescue and white clover. Turnkey job was about $3,600. It's looking great.

    I found a world of help in Bill Murphy's "Greener Pastures on Your side of the Fence" for rotational grazing.

    Voisin's techniques are discussed as well Pasture Nutrition.

    Good Luck. :)
     
  13. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    With only two acres consider spreading gypsum. Just use one of those push-type throw spreaders and give the ground enough of a coating to where you can see the residue afterwards. Make sure you do it on a windless day. The next rain will wash it into the soi since it is so fine. Gypsum will not affect pH, so don't be surprised if doesn't change from a before and after soil test.

    The crushed granite will provide a wide range of trace elements, but it will take time. Most of the action/breakdown will be done by earthworms. Here two references you might try to find are The Survival of Civilization by Donald A. Weaver (Hamaker-Weaver Publishers, Rt 1, Box 198, Seymour, MO 65746 or P.O. Box 1961, Burlingame, CA 94010) and Bread from Stone: A New and Rational System of Land Fertilization and Physical Regeneration by Dr. Julius Hensel (Health Research, P.O. Box 70, Mokelumne Hills, CA 95245).

    Also be aware one of the aspects of the government requiring coal plant smoke stack emission control is some lands are becoming sulfur-deficient. If you have clover or other legumes, you might also need to spread a couple pounds or boron per acre.

    Ken S. in WC TN
     
  14. - thanks all for your replies- this is the best forum on the web!
     
  15. do some checking around at some of the better farms and ask what they do. after our move from big farm to little farm, we just apply with tractor and spreader, 500lbs a go. i am sure one of your neighbors will have this available.
    agman is really on beam, rotational grazing is of course the way to grow healthy grass forever. healthy grass makes good pastures. keep it simple. give the grass what it needs to maintain a healthy plant and you will be enormously sucessful. animals are just a tool in keeping the rank growth down. i turned from a cattle farmer to a grass farmer in a few short years and it makes a whale of a difference to work and the pocketbook. good luck
    kate
     
  16. Tackle the spreading of the lime yourself if you are healthy, do it in plots so you know where you stopped and where to start next time. Consider it a never ending task----normally if spread all at once you would need it done again in three to four years. So doing a little just gets it done, spread over a longer period of time between other chores--no big deal.

    As to granite, and lime too---both forms of these rocks are just smaller rocks---they both take micro-organisms, fungi, earthworms and natural erosive actions to break them further down to plant usage size--the natural way---so I would forgo the granite---and replace it with a dressing of chicken house litter---believe me---the chicken companies make sure the chickens get their fair share of trace minerals---more than we humans get in our foods. Every time a chicken dies, they want to know why---if large numbers die, they will know why and if it is a trace mineral or vitamin--you can bet it will be in their feed forever after. Usually the guys who clean these chicken houses sell and spread the litter--do this about every two years and you will have great pasture. JWR-guest