I'm looking at a property that is all types of silt loam soil. It's very gently sloped and this time of year with the late winter rain/snow it's squishy wet in many areas. So I want to understand what this may look like as pasture land.
- If this description resembles your pastures, do they get firmer and tougher once this season passes? (Right now the backyard at my current home is very wet and it's definitely at it's worst this time of year)
- Is there anything particular I should know about this type of soil other than that it's delicate, loaded with nutrients, and capable of holding water very well?
Next step is an appt with the local conservation service, but I prefer to do some homework first.
We have Eden loam (they name all the types around here) which is a limestone based clay loam. It doesn't drain as well as the loam at my trainers, which is the Maury loam. Ours is ridegetop so we lack the nutrient value and it is far thinner than the definition states, ie we have in some places exposed bedrock, which means that water drains down to the bedrock, level in these parts, and then oh so slowly either drains off or evaporates out. My trainers loam drains much more rapidly, it's easily three feet or more deep and can take up much more water while staying less mooshy, if you know what I mean.
USDA has soils maps you can look up but as I said for us they sounded good - 30 to 36 inches of soil cover, but in practice all the topsoil is down the hill making my neighbor's creekside garden bed really nice dirt, and up here it wouldn't take much work with a bobcat (and maybe some dynamite) to come up with a parking lot made by stripping it down to a layer of strata.
You'll find that "lays well" as it is phrased here, generally means not dead flat but not too steep either. Dead flat drains poorly and "tiling" is a routine for farmers, too steep and horse hooves slip, taking loooong divots out of the grasses, roots and all, obviously not good.
In the summer time, we dry more rapidly and our soil gets rather hard, not a whole lot worse than hers but we have to be very careful with our pasture rotation. Our soil cracks if it's dry for about a week, the grass begins to suffer and we have lost grass cover at most of the heavy traffic areas, around gates, places we hay them, places they stand for cover.
Delicate. Well, you've neve seen mud until you've seen a foot of liquified mud/manure/urine that can be caused in less than a month by a restless confined horse, either in a too small pen or at a high traffic area. Many people confine their horses to their stalls or create gravel over geotextile (or even old carpet) small areas - dry lots or sacrifice area is the term. Lots of battles at boarding barns over turnout between the Barn Owners trying to save their pastures and the horse owners needing their horses to stretch their legs.
Silty loams are actually wonderful pasture soils, but how you manage the hooved traffic can make all the difference. Gravel is your friend. I suggest reading Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping on a small acreage, even if your acreage isn't small.
Importation of sand to change the character of the soil, in our case.
Judicious addition of drainage systems or configuration of existing systems.
Make sure the grasses are healthy with strong root systems, ie not newly seeded.
Know the species of grasses in your pasture, keep them mowed and limed/fertilized as needed. Remove weeds.
Addition of subdivisions in pastures in order to create a system of rotation- somewhere there is some info on the height the grass should be at the beginning and end of the grazing period which is usually two/three weeks.
Stock pastures appropriately, not too many horses.
Now, the golf course people import soil by the truckload, use heavy equipment to grade said soil to precise slopes, install asphalt trackways for vehicles and pedestrian primary use and depend on the human desire to stay dry to save their turf when it's wet and easily damaged. Horses, not so much.
Oh, and our north facing slope stays wet longer than our south facing and and shaded areas, it's more subject to damage. The planned run in at our house has southern exposures with graveled runs that should drain quickly.