I sampled soil from the field where I keep my horses in Ellistown, Co. Kildare to see what type of soil it had.
I took samples from approximately 25 spots in the field. I went in a zig zag pattern (see below pic 1.) and dug a hole with a trowel to about 6”. I did not take soil for sampling from the gateway, beside the hedges or the area around the water trough, as these areas might not give a realistic result and are more compacted. I put all of the samples in a bucket and gave it a really good mix around. From this bucket of sub-sampled soil, I took a smaller sample in a zip lock bag.
Firstly, I sampled my soil by hand. I followed the questionnaire (appendix a.) which involved me feeling, listening to and moulding the soil.
My soil did not feel noticeably sandy, so I moved onto question 6 to see if my soil formed a ball easily and felt smooth & silky, again the answer was no. The soil did form a strong ball after some moulding which smeared without taking a polish.
The next question asked is the soil also sandy – I said no. The soil felt smooth and silky to touch which determined my soil was silty clay loam.
I prepared my soil for the next test. I removed as much of the organic matter as I could. I took a clean large jar and took a good sample of my soil and put it in the jar. I filled the jar with a good bit of water, but not right to the top and gave it a really good shake.
After my jar was labelled, I put it away to settle. The following week I took my jar out to examine it and was really pleased with how it had settled into layers.
The next part of the experiment involved:
1. Taking measurements of the whole sample.
2. Measuring the size of each layer – sand, silt & clay.
3. Working out the percentage of each of the layers.
4. Putting the measurements into the soil triangle to determine the type of soil.
My total area of soil was 4.5cm.
Sand – 3.4cm
Silt – 1.0cm
Clay – 0.1cm
After some calculations, I came up with the following percentages of my soil:
Sand = 75.55%
Silt = 22.22%
Clay = 2.22%
I entered this data into the soil triangle (Appendix b.) and this test indicated that my soil was Loamy Sand. This was a different result to my texturing by hand test. I feel like the soil settlement & triangle test was rather conclusive test as it was quite obvious where the sections of soil were, and the measurements added up, so I would do the hand test again in the future and perhaps take a second opinion to see if my outcome was different to this time. I also found an online soil triangle tool, where you can enter your percentages and it will give you your soil type (Pic 8.) Again, this gave the same result of Loamy Sand soil.
This type of soil has a higher percentage of sand with a large soil particle (0.05-2mm) which cannot be broken down smaller, but has a mixture of clay and silt as well, so is a desirable and fertile soil. There are large gaps/spaces between them which holds air and allows water through them, therefore it is free draining, but does hold some moisture in the soil and is nutritious. Loamy soil can compact if wintering animals out and it is very wet weather, which can result in a 10-20% reduction in grass growth, a reduction in nutrient intake, increase of weeds, lesser drainage and there is a high risk of erosion from water if run-off occurs. Whilst no aeration should be needed for my type of soil, care should be taken whilst grazing animals during very wet conditions as this can cause compaction and then may require intervention.
Loamy soil warms up quickly in spring, therefore has more growth and due to good drainage has a longer working window – spring & autumn.
The PH reflects the amount of acid and alkalinity in the soil. PH between 6-6.5 is ideal. This can be determined by having a soil analysis carried out on the soil. Very acidic soil lower than this should have lime applied to it, which should be done at least every 5 years. Grazing can recommence when the lime has been washed off the leaves by the rain.
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I will need to get my soil tested for soil nutrient levels - pH, lime, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium levels, so I can make a plan and fertilize it accordingly. I would not work with machinery in my paddock when the ground is very wet, as this will compact the soil, damage the grass and have an effect on the grass growth. In Kildare it is prohibited to spread organic fertiliser between October 15th – January 12th or Chemical fertiliser between September 15th – January 12th, or at any time that the weather or ground are unsuitable or there is a risk of run-off. As I have loamy sand soil the drainage should generally be good.
The grass needs temperatures of above 6°c for growth for significant growth. In the early spring the grass responds to daylight hours and light intensity.
Early Season – from mid-February there should be a pick-up in growth, even if there is the occasional colder weather, so an early growing grass would be good. I would be looking at my soil nutrient levels and could spread some organic fertiliser from my muck heap in this period, if weather conditions permit. My horses would probably be stabled at night during this period and out in the day. Chain harrowing could be done early on to remove dead material and encourage new growth.
Mid–Season – from May to August – my fields should be abundant with grass now, if there are not sufficient droughts. If I have too much grass for my animals, I can section off a bit to cut for hay. I may need to have the fields topped if the stalks get too long, as the horses won’t eat them. At this time of year, it may be needed to apply weed control to my pasture.
Late Season – September – November – harrowing could be beneficial in the autumn to break up and spread the dung. The grass growth will slow down as the temperature reduces. If I do not have rotational grazing to give my paddock a rest during the year, I will need to give them a rest after this time, otherwise they will become bare and poached, and regrowth will be slower in the spring.
The types of grasses that I could use in my pasture would be:
Timothy – early growth and hardy in winter.
Rough Stalked Meadow Grass – will provide a good bottom to sward and is highly palatable.
Perennial Ryegrass – highly productive, although later growing in the season and tolerates intensive grazing.
Chewings & Creeping Red Fescue – good winter hardiness and gives good bottom.
Sheeps Fescue – very hardy and drought resistant.
Identifying the soil in the pastures is a very important procedure. It can help us to utilise the paddocks correctly and use them at their full potential. A sample can be sent to the lab to get a full analysis of nutrients and advice on fertilisation. By knowing the type of soil and levels of nutrients, we can make a management plan for the year and not just be guessing what our fields need.
- BEEF & LAMB. (ONLINE). Healthy Grassland Soils Pocketbook. [Accessed on 16/11/2019]. Available at: http://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/BRP-Healthy-grassland-soils-pocketbook-220216.pdf
- BEEF & LAMB. (ONLINE). Improving soils for better return. [Accessed on 15/11/2019]. Available at: http://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/BRP-Improving-soils-for-better-returns-manual-3.pdf
- ENVIRMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCEY. (ONLINE). Soil texture triangle. [Accessed on 15/11/2019]. Available at: http://gis.teagasc.ie/soils/texture.php
- EQUINE PERMACULTURE. (ONLINE). All about soils – part 1. Published on 10/02/2018. [Accessed on 16/11/2018]. Available at: https://equinepermaculture.com/blog/2018/02/10/all-about-soils-part-1/
- EQUINE PERMACULTURE. (ONLINE). All about soils – part 2. Published on 18/02/2018. [Accessed on 16/11/2018]. Available at: https://equinepermaculture.com/blog/2018/11/18/all-about-soils-part-2-soil-food-web/
- INDEPENDENT. (ONLINE). Early grass needs a small but timely amount of nitrogen. Published on 30th January 2017. [Accessed on 17/11/2019]. Available at: https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/early-grass-needs-a-small-but-timely-amount-of-nitrogen-26282881.html
- TEAGASC. (ONLINE). Grassland for horses. Published 2019. [Accessed on 17/11/2019]. Available at: https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/publications/2019/GrasslandForHorses_2019.pdf
- TEAGASC. (ONLINE). Liming Grassland Soils. [Accessed on 16/11/2019]. Available at: https://www.teagasc.ie/crops/soil--soil-fertility/soil-ph--liming/grassland/
- THE GARDEN SHOP. (ONLINE). Types of soil. [Accessed on 15/11/2019]. Available at: https://www.thegardenshop.ie/types-of-soil/
- Pic 1. Pattern of sampling
- Pic 2. Taking soil from the field
- Pic 3. Feeling the sand
- Pic 4. Moulding into a ball
- Pic 5. Sample in the jar. (Cover Pic).
- Pic 6. Settled into layers
- Pic 7. Taking measurements
- Pic 8. Online soil triangle tool
- Appendix a. Soil texturing by hand questionnaire
- Appendix b. Soil Triangle
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