Soil Sampling Your Pasture and Hayfields

— Written By Chris Jeffcoat

Soil sampling is an important tool in maintaining the proper fertilization levels in your pasture and hayfields. Currently, soil tests are free and should be submitted to the Extension Office. However, during the peak soil testing season of December 1 to March 31 there will now be a $4 charge for each soil sample tested. Soil test boxes can be obtained from the Extension Office.

Soil samples can be taken any time throughout the year, but late summer and early fall are good times to sample because any lime applied has enough time to change the soil pH before spring. You will also be ready to use the soil test recommendation for your spring fertilizer applications.

Individual soil sample cores should be taken using a soil test probe, spade, or garden trowel. Sample cores should be taken 3 to 4 inches deep for pasture and hayfields and 15 to 20 cores should be randomly taken on a grid throughout the field. Sample cores should be placed in a clean plastic bucket, crushed, mixed thoroughly, and then placed in the soil test box up to the “fill line”. Please do not use a galvanized or rubber bucket because zinc contamination of the soil sample will occur.

It is recommended to soil test your pasture and hayfields every 2 to 3 years for sandy-textured soils and every 3 to 4 years for clay-textured soils. However, for a higher value forage crop, such as alfalfa or red clover, I recommend you soil test every year to maintain the correct plant fertilization levels. Samples should have a uniform cropping history and be representative of the field, so avoid taking sample cores in wet spots, old building sites, fence rows, burn areas, and areas where lime or manure has been previously piled.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Chris Jeffcoat, Area Agent for Livestock and Forages, at 336-593-8179.