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Field Considerations from a Pro
By Maddy Butcher
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It’s a free service to have Dr. Richard Brzozowski visit and assess your field. He is an educator for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and that’s part of his job.
But it sure feels like one should be paying for the knowledge gained.
For me and my neighbor (who owns the land and generously lets me pasture the horses there), there are about 16 acres to consider. Most is for hay. About three acres are fenced off for pasture.
Our objective, as we struggle with golden rod, frog grass and our own ignorance, is to have a professional assess the field and tell us how we can improve it.
Improving a field, in the eyes of Dick Brzozowski means reducing the weeds and getting the grasses up to optimal health.
He considers a field like many would consider a horse:
Give it the chance to perform, the time to respond.
Don’t overstress it.
Give it proper nutrients and the opportunity to flourish.
Brzozowski took several soil samples to be sent away for analysis. (There is a $15 charge for the lab work).
To do this, he zigzagged the field and took as many as 10 core samples. His tool was a hollow metal dowel which he pushed about six inches into the ground. Then, he mixed the samples together in a five-gallon bucket before putting a pint-worth of the mix into a cardboard box.
As we walked around the field, he talked. Here are some nuggets:
-- In this region, it usually pays to put lime and/or woodash on a field, Brzozowski told us. Grasses grow best in fields with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 and most fields here are more acidic than that. In addition, grasses are better competitors against weeds when the pH goes up.
-- Burning a field can help it fight disease and weeds, plus the ash will increase the pH.
-- Grasses do better against weeds if there is regular mowing. Mowing is critical even if it looks like the horses are keeping it down. They likely won’t be keeping weeds like golden rod down and if these go to seed, then guess what? More golden rod next year.
-- Brzozowski knows tilling and seeding are expensive propositions. One relatively inexpensive seeding method is to “frost seed.” It's done during the maple sugar season, when there are daily thaws and freezes. He recommends frost-seeding with clover because its round, compact seeds sink well into the ground in those conditions.
-- Just like a horse needs nutrients, so does a field. There are
16 essential nutrients, including phosphorous, nitrogen, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and sulfur.
-- It will take three to six months for the ground to react to changes you make (like adding fertilizer, lime, etc.)
-- Be careful of overgrazing. If you overgraze into the fall, then the grasses won’t set themselves up for spring.
“A pasture is an organism just like a horse,” said Brzozowski. “you don’t want to overtask it.”
Stay tuned for results and Brzozowski's recommendations.
I sent away two boxes of soil to be tested. One from samples where the horses were grazing, another from the field where I harvest hay.
Not surprisingly, the horses' pasture area was slightly more acidic (pH 5.8 compared to pH 5.9) than the larger hay field. I am assuming a summer's worth of manure would account for the difference.
The soil tests indicated both samples were especially deficient in phosphorus.
I sent away for testing from hay off this field and another field from which I bought 100 bales.
A quick review shows that neither are giving my horses the best nutrition. One had 8 percent available protein, the other had 11 percent.
I can't wait to talk with Dick Brzozowski! Stay tuned for details, analysis, and recommendations for lime, fertilizer, and more.
View Reader Comments:
Great article and advice!! I am going to call our local extension program, UCONN. Thanks for the tips!!
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"It is the hardest pill for all of us would-be horsemen to swallow, but it is absolutely true - if the horse is not responding properly, we are doing something wrong" - Mary Twelveponies
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