Forage Health: Constant Nutrient Monitoring to Ensure Long-Lived Grazing System


Plants have some needs that are often overlooked, and low nutrients or inadequate pH can reduce their vigor favoring long tap-rooted plants such as broadleaf weeds. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are called macro nutrients due to their high quantity requirement by plants. Secondary nutrients are sulfur (S), calcium (Ca) and Magnesium (Mg), which the plant has a moderate demand for. Micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts than macro and secondary nutrients. These are iron, zinc, copper, manganese, boron, molybdenum, chloride and nickel.

A large portion of our soils due to their nature have a limited ability to hold nutrients and oftentimes pasture weed problems and stand loss are due to deficiencies in one or more of these essential elements.

Soil acidity

Flatwoods soils are naturally acid due to climatic conditions. Undisturbed soils have a pH around 4.5. The term pH refers to the ability of the soil to exchange hydrogen and it ranges from pH 0 to 14. Normal blood pH for humans is 7.4, and perennial forages prefer a pH of between 5 and 7. A pH lower than 4 creates the potential for aluminum toxicity in the soil which can affect root growth and plant vigor. A pH greater than 7 can reduce the availability of micronutrients affecting multiple pathways involved in forage growth.


Nutrient value

A classic sign of nitrogen deficiency in Bahiagrass pastures. Photo credit: Jonael Bosques.

Many people just lime their pastures every other year due to increasing input costs. Nevertheless, replenishing the whole nutrient profile of the soil can improve more than just your grass stand. Applications of nitrogen can increase crude protein content in the forage as well as digestibility (which will lead to more intake by livestock).


Well nourished grass will mean less weeds

Grass stands that receive adequate nutrition and liming have the ability to survive and spread more readily. Well-nourished forages better compete for nutrients, and water. They can outcompete in most cases common broad leaf weeds and fight off diseases.


Routine monitoring

Soil analysis is performed by randomly taking core samples from your fields 4 to 6 inches in depth. These core samples will be collected and mixed together in a bucket, and a subsequent subsample free from debris (roots, twigs, stones, etc.) will be sent out to be analyzed at a soils laboratory.

At the soils laboratory, your sample will be subject to chemical extraction of nutrients (similar to the process that happens at the root level by plants when they absorb nutrients from the soil profile). The soil sample will be analyzed for macro- and secondary nutrients as well as pH. Furthermore, a soil amendment recommendation will be generated specifically for your field/pasture. Mehlich 3 is the most accurate soil extraction protocol for determining nutrient content and pH.

Routine soil testing can help pasture managers make appropriate decisions on fertilizer and lime use to optimize pasture productivity. Photo credit: Jonael Bosques.

It is recommended that you sample your pastures and fields yearly, and give yourself enough time for the applied lime to interact with your soil. This usually takes close to four months to stabilize and reach the pH level that is recommended following adequate spreading procedures.

Soil analysis can be performed for a relatively economical price through the UF/IFAS Extension Hardee County office. Come by the office and get some soil test kits for your farm.

For adequate determination of P content on Bahiagrass pastures, a tissue sample should be analyzed as well. This tissue analysis will determine the level of P in the plant and combines the soil data to conclude if P should be applied or not. Some areas of Hardee County are rich in P, but there are pockets around that vary in levels of this nutrient.

A little extra information can go a long way when we are trying to manage a system such as our pastures in which we cannot control rain, temperatures and other variables that influence plant growth and nutrient mobility. Remember that grass is the cheapest feedstuff we have for our cows, horses, goats and other livestock. The lack of monitoring can result in a gradual depletion of healthy and profitable resource such as our perennial forages. Routine soil analysis, inspection of your grass stand, assessment of your weed populations and analysis of forage quality will be money and effort well spent.

If you would like to learn more on how to test your soil, plant fertility, forage production and other topics, please call us at the UF/IFAS Extension Hardee County office at 863-773-2164. We are here to help.

Further information:

The Impacts of Soil Acidity on Bahiagrass Pasture Performance

Fertilizing and Liming Forage Crops




Posted: April 3, 2017

Category: Agriculture, Farm Management, Livestock
Tags: Agriculture, Forage, Nutrients, Nutrition, PH, Soil



March 8, 2022

During the time they require the brooder they do not need a run. Constant temperature and protection from drafts is the most critical part for their development at this point.

Donna Castro
February 18, 2022

Thank you for this! I am in the process of obtaining my first little backyard flock and am feeling a bit intimidated by this whole brooder issue. This really helped me feel more confident! I have a coop set up and ready, but also wanted to provide a run. Do these have to be connected? Can I train the birds to go into it and then back to the coop at night? Thank you for your help.


December 14, 2020

Not that I am aware. Maybe watch weather pattern differences because these can affect the germination time.

December 13, 2020

any special requirements or things to be extra aware of in zone 9B-10, im right on the cusp?

November 10, 2020

Corto y conciso, francamente maravilloso el post. Mas que nada porque para mi, familiarizarse con los requerimientos particulares de cada animal es sin dudas lo mas esencial en la cría.

Jose Zayas

March 29, 2019

Saludos: espero estar traduciendo todos mis "blogs" para el beneficio de todos! Gracias

Edson Silva
March 29, 2019

Me da gusto que este post este en espanol espero que sigan poniendo mas


August 9, 2018

UF has also released flies to manage fire ants. Bottom line: there is nothing more effective right now than chemical control right now.

July 25, 2018

University of Texas are studying agricultural control of fire ants with a species of phorid flies. Is this something we are trying in Florida as well? Fire ant mounds are very difficult to control and they can easily take over a yard. I have tried several different product without any good results. I am trying some products by Amdro, Siege, and Extinguish next. If there were any better natural products available I would much rather use than spreading chemicals.

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March 9, 2018

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Well done, Marissa.

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August 10, 2017

Great article, Marissa.

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