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Clues to soil health lie in the patties

Grazier Neil Dennis indicates what he looks for in animal manure to help determine the health of pasture soil.

If you want a quick indicator of pasture soil health, just flip the flops.

“When I am in my pastures I will flip the cow patties over and I want to see as many holes as I can because that is a sign of fertility,” Dave Pogson, a grazier from Clearwater told the recent Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association workshop in Virden.

“Dung beetles create these holes and the more dung beetles you have the faster the nutrients are getting into the soil. This is also a way of telling how healthy your soil is.”

Blain Hjertaas, a certified educator with Holistic Management International, agrees. He told a recent workshop in Wawota, Sask. that on a warm day when the soil is healthy, you should begin to see new dung beetles in the manure within six to 10 seconds.

“If you are looking at land health, look for dung beetles flying around, as well as in the manure,” he said. “If you are using an insecticide on your grazing pastures, as the chemicals move through the body of the cow, they go out into the feces and the feces then become poisonous to the dung beetles and consequently the dung beetle population dies. At that point you can play Frisbee with your cow pies because they become hard as a rock.”

Experienced grazier Neil Dennis from Wawota said when looking at cattle manure he likes to see a consistency similar to pumpkin pie.

“I like to see the cow pies looking kind of like a pumpkin pie, mounded and dipped in the middle,” said Dennis. “With the yearlings, I like to see them sliced with a bit of a shiny coating on the outside.”

In Dennis’s experience, when cattle are achieving the best gains, manure will look greasy in appearance.

“You will usually see the greasy appearance at the end of the year when cattle are getting the best gains, especially if your sugar content and nutrient levels are right on.”

Dennis said many times you can get a good idea of pasture health just by driving through your paddocks.

“When you go to leave your paddock, if the cow manure is sticking to your tires and flying all over, you are in good shape. If you were to check your sugar content and pH at that point, they will be right on,” said Dennis.

About the author


Jennifer Paige

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.



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