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Evaluating Pasture Health In The Rain

The next time it rains, get out of the truck and go for a walk. Grab the boots and head out to your pasture instead of looking out the windshield. You’re going to learn a lot more about the soil health and where the rain on your pasture is going.

Victor Shelton is an NRCS state agronomist and grazing specialist in Indiana. He says every landowner should take a walk in the pasture while it’s raining to see what the rainwater is doing.

"The water should be soaking in. If water’s not soaking in, then what’s really going on is the soils are either compacted from traffic or hooves," says Shelton. "A lot of times that is caused from being out there with equipment or livestock being out there when it’s excessively wet."

Increasing root growth and soil organic matter will increase the soil’s water holding capacity. There also needs to be enough residual and residue cover on the pasture year-round to slow down runoff.

"Residual, which is live plant material, it’s just what’s left after a grazing event or what’s left at the end of the growing season. And then residue. Residue is dead plant material, generally not attached, and laying on the soil surface," he says. "Both of those highly influence runoff."

If you see a lot of water runoff, follow this water. When it starts concentrating as it builds flow, it increases the likelihood of some erosion. Small rills can eventually become big gullies that take a lot more money to fix.