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Healthy Soil

Posted 2/10/2010 2:21pm by Renae Schlatter.

We have had snow here since Monday morning. It finally quit around 10:00 this morning. I'm not sure how much we have gotten exactly, maybe 6-8 inches. It's really pretty and the sun is shining right now.

Last time I talked about how grass is healing for soil. The process is also helped along by earthworms and dung beetles. The past few springs we have noticed some strange sounds when we walk in the wet pastures. It's a sucking sound that comes from the soil. We finally realized that this is coming from earthworms. When the ground becomes very wet in the spring time the worms will come to the surface. As soon as they feel the vibrations from our feet then will go back into the soil. There are so many of them that when this happens there is literally noise coming from the soil as they all go back underground. It really is amazing. The earthworms serve many purposes including converting organic material into nutrients that plants can use, increasing the soils water retention, and bringing minerals and nutrients that are deep in the soil up to the top where plants can utilize them. This is another reason why when we get heavy rains our pastures soak up far more water than neighboring row crop fields. 

Dung beetles are also amazing little creatures. From what we understand, dung beetles will not come unless the soil is healthy. We have noticed them on our pastures for several years now. They live off of dung piles. They will take little balls of dung and burrow them underground. This benefits us in multiple ways. One is that it is a way of utilizing our natural 'fertilizer.' They take the nutrients from the dung and burrow it underground so it can help and the organic matter goes far below the topsoil. This is kind of a composting mechanism. Flies like to lay their eggs in dung piles. Flies have always been a problem for us, as they are for all livestock farmers. As the dung beetles have populated our pastures we have noticed our fly problem has decreased. This is because the dung beetles are burrowing the dung underground leaving no habitat for the flies to lay their eggs. This past summer we put some cattle on rented pasture a couple miles from our farm here that has only been pasture for 2 years. We noticed how many more flies were at that location than here where our pastures are well developed and dung beetles are prevalant. Isn't it crazy that we don't have to spend money on pesticides and insecticides to get rid of the flies?

We feel our pastures at the home farm have made a full circle to where they used to be, many years ago. Back in the 80s there was an older German soil scientist here at the farm and he went out and dug in our hard clay soil and said, "This soil is dead. It would have great potential if it were healed and made alive again." For the past several years we have had soil samples taken and tested from our pastures. Two years ago, the soil consultant came back with the results and was apologetic about the results. He said that he tried to scrape the ground as to take any organic matters off of the top of the ground, but the tests came back with such high organic matter that he was concerned that he took the sample wrong. The organic matters were high last year also. It is such a testimony that nature and time can heal the soil.

Why all this discussion about healthy soil? If the soil is of poor quality, so will everything else that comes from it; whether it be crops or livestock or any by products of these. Good soil is the root of proper nutrition.