Pasture Management Program

Pasture Management for Improved Grass and Soil Health 2015 - 2016

These root balls are from the 1" clipping and the 4" clipping plots.  What a difference in mass.

The pasture plots were set up for demonstration purposes in 2015.  There are a total of four plots located in Boulder, Larimer, and Jefferson counties.  Every other week or monthly the plots were clipped and harvested at 1”, 2”, and 4” stubble heights.  First we looked just at the production; how much forage did we harvest off of those plots.  The results were not eye-catching when looking at it from a paper perspective, but in the field it was a whole other story.  There appeared to be a story of diminishing returns unfolding right before our eyes.  Sure the 1” was producing, but for how long could the plots look like they do and the forage keep producing?  It prompted us to try it again for another year, but to add to our data collection and look at soil health.

2016 was the second year of collecting data and again the results just were not showing a lot in regards to production.  Examining just the harvest yields would indicate that you can have similar production among the sites regardless of the stubble height. 

However, what started to take place below the ground was nothing short of amazing and should really start grabbing people’s attention.  Let’s just look at temperature.  On average the 1” plots exceeded over a 20 degree difference from the surface in comparison with 2” below the surface temperatures.  That means in the 1” plot there was substantially more evapotranspiration, essentially less water available for the plant as it is being evaporated into the atmosphere.  But that wasn’t all we found.  The change in the color of the soil was noted as well.  There was a visible increase in organic matter, thus changing the soil color from brown to almost black in just a timeframe of four months.  It has been discovered that an increase in organic matter by just 1% multiplies the ability of the soil to hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water!  That is huge in this arid region we call home in Colorado.  However, that wasn’t all we found, the structure of the soil began to change from a dense compacted structure in the 1” to a crumbly soil structure in the 4”.  Again, let me remind you this all took place in less than four months by simply changing the height and frequency of harvesting heights on grasses.  So what difference does the structure of the soil have on any of this?  A LOT.  Think of a parking lot versus a well prepared garden bed.  What would grow healthier food?  Obvious answer and it is exactly the same with the pasture grasses.  The deeper those plants can get their roots into the soil the more they are able to mine for available water and nutrients.  Essentially they are doing the work for you resulting in less inputs to produce more forage.  As expected we saw an increase in measured sugars of the forage in the 4” versus the 1” plots, indicating higher quality feed. 

In 2015 we held a Pasture Walk/Talk series to demonstrate the results we were finding.  We did three separate tours and had about 40 people attend. This year, we again held a Pasture Walk/Talk event to look at the results.  We had 68 people attend this year.

This is the production information that has been accumulated during 2015 and 2016.  The information was provided at the Pasture Walk/Talk in 2016.



"What was taking place below the ground was nothing short of amazing."

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