Reaping the benefits of better soil

Soil compaction may create problems for producers in areas on their properties they may not have considered. A compacted area prevents water from infiltrating the soil thus causing stress to trees and plants, creating muddy spots prone to cause foot rot, and decreasing the lifespan of ponds. However, there are ways to reduce soil compaction and minimize its impact. 

Control Woodland Access

Livestock appreciate grazing in wooded pasture especially in the heat of the summer. But allowing heavy-hooved animals, such as cattle and horses, to continuously graze the area can compact the soil near tree roots. “What happens with compaction is all the voids and aerobic pathways through the soil profile are being compacted down so now when it rains water just runs off and it doesn’t infiltrate very well,” Nathan Bilke, district conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, said. “Then the trees get stressed because they don’t get very much water.” The compacted soil causes the tree to suffer and makes them more prone to disease.

This can be particularly frustrating for producers planning to utilize their wooded area to cultivate nut crops or to harvest timber. District conservationists recommend allowing livestock to graze in the woodland parts of property, but to limit the access. One way to limit the access is to fence off the wooded area with a permanent or temporary fence. Then, the animals can occasionally graze in the woods at the producer’s discretion.

Monitor Water Sources

 In the same token, controlling livestock access to water will reduce compaction problems near water sources. For example, fence cattle out of the pond while giving them limited access to the water. Hoof action around the pond bank can compact the soil and cause soil to wash into the pond. This will reduce the pond’s storage capacity and life expectancy. “If you don’t have water, you don’t have anything,” Bilke stated.

 Additionally, compaction problems can occur near waterers. The waterers are a drawing point for livestock causing compaction areas around the water tank or automatic waterer which can turn into mudholes. District conservationists recommend implementing heavy use area protection measures in these situations. Installing geotextile fabric and gravel around the area can reduce problems. 

Pasture Management Strategies

Minimizing the impact of compaction throughout pastures can be achieved through the combination of several management practices. “A lot of things work together to offset the issue of compaction. So, having good forage resources and water distributed across the landscape is important and that will help,” Bilke explained. 

 During severe weather conditions, such as a drought or extremely muddy conditions, consider choosing a single paddock instead of letting cattle roam throughout the pastures. “When the soil is muddy or the weather isn’t right and you don’t want to cause issues across the place for a long period of time, put them in a paddock you don’t mind sacrificing that you can rehab later,” Bilke advised. When the stressful time has passed, producers have to rehab only part of their pasture instead of all of it. 


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