Thoughts about early spreading of manure, early pasture growth

Most of you have probably heard by now that VT Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross, has lifted the winter manure spreading ban.  The unseasonably warm weather will provide a great opportunity to get some things done early this year!  A couple of things to keep in mind, however.

  • Applying when it is hot and sunny increases ammonia volatilization from your manure.  Take whatever measures are appropriate on your particular fields to reduce those losses.  Incorporation is very helpful, but given the time of year, that tillage may increase the risk of erosion on some fields, given the amount to time that those soils will be exposed without any vegetation.
  • While it is nice and warm, the sub-soil is still very wet.  As you know, the wetter the ground, the more at risk you are for compaction.   If possible, begin with the fields least prone to compaction issues.
  • Take the extra time to put the manure where you most desperately need it.  I am amazed at how many soil tests I see come across my desk that are critically low in phosphorus and potassium.  Those fields are generally the top priority for you manure, even if it means hauling it a little further.
  • Fertilizer is EXPENSIVE this year.  Test your manure so you know how much of each needed nutrient you are putting on your respective fields.  The nutrient content of manure is extremely variable, and you cannot know what you are dealing with unless you test it.  Your local Extension Office should have manure testing kits.
  • If you do not have recent soil tests for your fields, please understand how profitable that the mundane soil testing process can be for your farm.  You cannot know what you need unless you know what you have.  If you need a soil probe, call me or your local Extension Office to see if there is one available.

Many farmers across the northern tier of the US are excited at the prospect of having their livestock on pasture extremely early this year.  Having livestock of my own, I share the enthusiasm for that idea.  If/when temperatures drop down to normal seasonal levels, the growth rate of the pasture plants will slow way down, and seem to stand still until it warms up for a longer period of time.  Grazing your main established pastures too early could set your pasture back by much more than you may gain from turning them out several weeks early.  On the positive side, for areas that you are trying to renovate or reclaim from a fallow situation, introducing livestock early could keep you ahead of certain problem plants and/or allow you to employ the animals to tread in the forage seed of your choice.


About Daniel Hudson

Daniel is an agronomist for University of Vermont Extension in the areas of agriculture and nutrient management.
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