How grazing affects soil quality of soils formed in the glaciated northeastern United States

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Historically, much of the New England landscape was converted to pasture for grazing animals and harvesting hay. Both consumer demand for local sustainably produced food, and the number of small farms is increasing in RI, highlighting the importance of characterizing the effects livestock have on the quality of pasture soils. To assess how livestock affect pasture on Charlton and Canton soils series in RI, we examined soil quality in farms raising beef cattle (Bos taurus), sheep (Ovis aries), and horses (Equus ferus caballus), using hayed pastures as a control. We sampled three pastures per livestock type and three control hayed pastures in May, August, and October 2012. Hay fields and pastures grazed by sheep had statistically significant (P < 0.001) better soil quality than pastures grazed by beef cattle or horses. This was driven by parameters including penetration resistance, bulk density, aggregate stability, and infiltration rate. Hayfields also showed higher soil quality measures than grazed pastures for organic matter content and active C. In addition, significant differences in nitrate and phosphate concentrations were observed among livestock types. Respiration and infiltration rates, pH, and ammonium concentrations, on the other hand, did not differ significantly among pasture types. When all soil quality indicators in this study were weighed equally, soil quality scores followed the order: hay > sheep > beef cattle > horses. The results of our study provide baseline data on the effect different types of livestock have on pasture soil quality in RI, which may be useful in making sound land use and agricultural management decisions.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Environmental Monitoring and Assessment