Soil Fertility, Animal Health: a Discussion - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 06:41 PM Thread Starter
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Soil Fertility, Animal Health: a Discussion

I was going to post this as a reply to my blackberry thread, but I decided to start a new thread and ping the people from that thread, as I would really like some informed input here.

OK So I'm 10 pages into Soil Fertility Animal Health and this guy has my brain entirely twisted around. Radioconductivity of soil indicates presence of moisture and minerals, OK, I can accept that. But how is it supposed to be related to protein production? Maybe he's going to get into that more.

How are the dry grasslands of the Midwest considered more fertile than the rich forests of the east coast? Doesn't the presence of ranged cattle (I mean meat cattle, not dairy cattle) suggest that the land is LESS fertile? Isn't more fertile soil typically used for growing crops? Or is my experience growing up in Texas just confusing me? When I think of beef production, I think of the semi- arid lands of North, South, and West Texas, where you just can't grow anything else. Even more arid? Get some goats. No one is going to make money trying to grow corn out in the hill country, but you can raise goats there. So to me, animal production (again, excepting dairy production) suggests less fertile land.

If rain leaches all the minerals out of soil, how is the soil in the UK and Ireland still going strong after thousands of years?

People blame rain in the Pacific Northwest for depleting the soil, but average rainfall for Seattle and Dallas are almost the same. Plus the PNW benefits (if you want to call it that) from the occasional volcanic eruption, which should surely spread copious amounts of minerals. Everything says that the soils of the PNW are depleted, so I guess I can't argue with that, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Yes, literally 10 pages into the book.

@dogpatch ?
@QtrBel ?
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post #2 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 07:26 PM
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I'll take a stab at this. I think you are confusing rainfall with soil fertility. For example soils in the midwest had enough rainfall to support grass but not trees. Grass plants with their deep extensive root systems produce a lot of organic matter which produces rich deep fertile soils. It helps that the climate is colder and drier which slows the decomposition of organic matter. The coasts have more rainfall which supports trees. Believe it or not trees don't have as extensive root systems as prarie grasses. Much of the nutrients are locked up for long periods of time above the soil in the structure of the trees. Remove the trees and you take away a lot of the fertility. It doesn't help that these areas are often warmer and wetter which facilitates the quicker breakdown of organic matter and leaching. Arid areas never had enough rainfall to support enough vegetation to form rich soils. This link shows the 5 soil formation factors. https://earthhow.com/soil-formation-factors/ Soil formation is complicated and there are many PhD's still trying to figure it out.
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post #3 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 09:14 PM
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A lot of questions, and don't get put off after only 10 pages. If you stick to the book, you will read some sections many times for clarity. The important message is how soil fertility imparts complete nutrition in a forage plant for a grazing animal. Don't be fooled by "rich forests of trees". Trees don't need anywhere near the kind of fertility it takes to produce nutrition dense forage. Oregon produces millions of Christmas trees and board feet of Douglas fir, but it's a notorious cesspool of equine metabolic disorders due to the high sugar, low mineral forage grown here. If you understand this, you will be a pioneer. So I'll tackle your questions as best I can, but maybe only one at a time. First of all, "radio conductivity". There's a map on page 5 of "ground conductivity". So I have looked up "ground conductivity" and here is where you can begin learning about how soil minerals impact plant growth. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/F...2p2_053280.pdf


I confess, I did not dwell on this section of the book.


I also looked up the definnition of "radio" and got this:
Definition of radio

(Entry 1 of 4)


1 : of, relating to, or operated by radiant energy

2 : of or relating to electric currents or phenomena (such as electromagnetic radiation) of frequencies between about 3000 hertz and 300 gigahertz


In the caption under the map on page 5, Albrecht makes the connection between the excellent soil conductivity AND radio conductivity in the US along the 98th meridian of longitude, west. I don't presume to understand the science, but I believe he's establishing a correlation between soil conductivity, radio conductivity and the deep fertility, which comes about as a result of electrical conductivity in the soil, that sustained millions of grassland animals in that region of the North American continent.


As you read on, you will come to understand that soil fertility is all about electrical attraction of positively and negatively charged "elements" within the soil. Clay colloid and humus are negatively charged. Calcium and Magnesium are positively charged, for example. A soil with the right amounts of clay colloid and humus, has a very high affinity for attracting and holding the positively charged calcium and magnesium (this is only an example), IF those minerals are available to begin with. Eastern and Pacific Northwestern soils are eroded and can be cold, which limits the microbial life that "exchanges" minerals with plant roots for a bit of nourishing carbohydrates exuded by the plant roots. As you can see, the extreme west and the extreme east have soils that have been "destroyed" (no conductivity) by excessive erosion, limiting their ability to "become" fertile because they lack the electrical attraction for holding mineral nutrients in the root zones of grass (specifically). You can ADD minerals but if the clay and humus cannot hold them in the root zone they will leach into the subsoil...IF they were ever present to begin with. Over a period of many years, our poor eroded Pacific Northwest soil failed to achieve a sustainable and significant level of fertility. Oh the grass grew like mad, but it never achieved the nutritional value that it could have, nor the "persistence" of desirable grass species, had the soil been intrinsically able, through electrical attraction, to hold the minerals we applied in the root zone. Any soil amendment (mineral) that cannot find an "attachment point" on the clay colloid, or the humus, will leach and go to perdition. Thus we spent thousands of dollars adding minerals to the soil, only to have to replenish them again the next growing season. For reference, our place is situated on a 10 million year old lava bed that has weathered to red clay. "Weathered" in this case means that the soil is degraded to a point where it is functionally infertile. This lava field is situated at certain elevations in Oregon. Different elevations have different soil profiles and will be more or less fertile. For instance, about 50,000 years ago, massive ice dams formed on the Columbia river, when they broke, they flooded the Willamette Valley up to 400 feet deep, depositing soils from as far away as Montana. These floods were called the Missoula floods. The Willamette Valley is the "breadbasket" of Oregon. At our elevation, the pioneers came through, looked around, went "meh," and continued on a few more miles to "the end of the Oregon Trail" in Oregon City, and dispersed into the Willamette Valley, where things had a chance to grow.
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post #4 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 09:30 PM
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I used to say ranchers were nothing but grass farmers. Now I think of it in terms of being a dirt farmer.

I agree with @RMH that rainfall doesn't guarantee good soil. It sure dictates what can be grown in a region, though. In my area we get about 10" of precipitation annually. That includes what moisture we get from all the snow that falls in the winter.

But it's been appreciated for more than a hundred years that the dirt in the western states grows very nutritious forage. It cures on the stem even!

I've changed a lot of my pasture management. I encourage dung beetles because they are great at enriching the soil. That results in less worming, or worming at different times, and more targeted worming. Animals get moved more often. Funny... kind of like when they were more free-ranging and allowed to drift. I'm researching biochar. Looking at root systems more. Considering what plants take what from the soil land what they give back.

And picking the brains of people who know allot more than me!

There are many good studies and books on soil. I hadn't heard of the one you are reading @ACinATX . I'll have to check it out.
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post #5 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 09:46 PM
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"How are the dry grasslands of the Midwest considered more fertile than the rich forests of the east coast? Doesn't the presence of ranged cattle (I mean meat cattle, not dairy cattle) suggest that the land is LESS fertile? Isn't more fertile soil typically used for growing crops? Or is my experience growing up in Texas just confusing me? When I think of beef production, I think of the semi- arid lands of North, South, and West Texas, where you just can't grow anything else. Even more arid? Get some goats. No one is going to make money trying to grow corn out in the hill country, but you can raise goats there. So to me, animal production (again, excepting dairy production) suggests less fertile land."


This has to do with "management practices". Cattle on western range land are managed "extensively". They require about 500 acres to sustain one cow calf pair. When you wander around in the arid regions, you'll find a few cows and calves hanging around the water tanks, but they'll also be scattered out, not mobbed up by predators. Grasses in low rainfall rangeland have about 30 days to sprout, grow, set seed and die. This is when the cows and calves are turned out. You'll see them tiptoeing daintily round the scrub, dining on the fragile grasses. Ultimately this kind of management destroys the water cycle, giving opportunistic species like Western Juniper to run rampant and further destroy water ecology. Streams dry up, native grasses die out, juniper runs rampant, not only sucking the ground dry but preventing about 30% of rainfall from hitting the ground through its canopy. The sandy (low clay/humus) soil becomes "capped" by algae, and also hydrophobic, preventing insoak. Range is managed to the benefit of lease holders, it has NOTHING to do with healthy, productive soil.


Cattle that are managed so that they are "mobbed up" and remain on a small area then quickly moved on, are forced to walk on the woody vegetation, killing it and making way for the grasses. Their sharp hooves break up the capped soil and push dead vegetation into ground contact where microbes can convert it to humus, and allow insoak of rain water. Any grass that dies standing will simply oxidize, break off and blow away. They also push their own manure into the soil with their hooves, instead of leaving cowpies above the surface to dessicate and petrify for all time. There are examples of more intensively managed rangelands where stream flow and native grasses have been restored through grazing.


Oregon was a hotbed of range wars in the 1800s. Grass grew as high as a horse's belly when the pioneers came through. But the soil is so fragile, a few decades of heavy grazing destroyed the rangeland permanently. There are some pretty amazing accounts of those wars online.


As far as the "dry" midwest is concerned, I don't know anything about the midwest. But my understanding is "typically" there will be about 25" of rain, spread out throughout the year. Albrecht says that 25" of rain is about the right amount to "build" soils. Amounts more than that tend to "destroy" the soil for a number of reasons that you will read about in the book. He also talks about winds blowing topsoil from the arid west to the midwest, bringing minerals with it. This would be one form of natural replenishment of soil minerals.


Animal Production - if you really want to understand animal production, you should look into the Management Intenstive Grazing system of grassland meat production, a system that utilizes forage only, while improving the soil. Goat production is not viable in the US as a meat source. All cattle for slaughter end up in stockyards fed up on corn and other unhealthy feeds, like ground up chicken feathers. Most of the bigger feedlots are situated in the areas where corn is grown. Corn land is not wasted on grazing, not when you've got millions of acres you can throw the cows on until the calves are ready to fatten. Range raising is not the end point of cattle production. But up to a certain point, it's the cheapest management protocol.
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Last edited by dogpatch; 02-11-2020 at 09:55 PM.
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post #6 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 10:06 PM
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"If rain leaches all the minerals out of soil, how is the soil in the UK and Ireland still going strong after thousands of years?"


The simple answer is, you are mistaken. I have in book form, a report of the state of the failing soil fertility in the UK, published by the government in 1929. At that time, little was known about many of the trace elements of the soil, which were considered "contaminants". However, the value of calcium - limestone - was established as a premier soil nutrient. The report concluded that agriculture (remember, "improved" varieties of high producing livestock were being bred, stripping the soil of nutrition at accelerated rates), could ONLY be sustained ARTIFICIALLY, by the addition of lime, at least, to agricultural soils, and thus, limestone applications were subsidized by both the UK and US at that time.


Keep in mind, too, that the UK is no doubt feeding millions more citizens than it did a few thousand years ago - and there is plenty of evidence that those early citizens were pretty desperately undernourished and died young.



Albrecht established the need for Calcium to be balanced with other minerals in the soil, or secondary deficiencies were induced. This effect was probably what brought about the end of the limestone subsidies.


Back in the old days of Yahoo! groups, and the new acronym EMS, I got on a UK based EMS group, where they lamented about the increasing horrible metabolic issues their horses are having, things that "never used to happen". When I tried to introduce some of the concepts I'm sharing, I was viciously attacked as having some sort of evil agenda. The fact that the group owner was profiting from metabolic disease probably had something to do with it.
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post #7 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 10:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boots View Post
I used to say ranchers were nothing but grass farmers. Now I think of it in terms of being a dirt farmer.

I agree with @RMH that rainfall doesn't guarantee good soil. It sure dictates what can be grown in a region, though. In my area we get about 10" of precipitation annually. That includes what moisture we get from all the snow that falls in the winter.

But it's been appreciated for more than a hundred years that the dirt in the western states grows very nutritious forage. It cures on the stem even!

I've changed a lot of my pasture management. I encourage dung beetles because they are great at enriching the soil. That results in less worming, or worming at different times, and more targeted worming. Animals get moved more often. Funny... kind of like when they were more free-ranging and allowed to drift. I'm researching biochar. Looking at root systems more. Considering what plants take what from the soil land what they give back.

And picking the brains of people who know allot more than me!

There are many good studies and books on soil. I hadn't heard of the one you are reading @ACinATX . I'll have to check it out.

Oregon grows TERRIBLE hay. Lots of attractive, high-carbohydrate biomass. Lots of metabolically sick horses.
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post #8 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 11:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dogpatch View Post
Oregon grows TERRIBLE hay. Lots of attractive, high-carbohydrate biomass. Lots of metabolically sick horses.
I don't know about Oregon and will take your word for it. Sounds awful. But I am familiar with Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas.
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post #9 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 11:38 PM
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"People blame rain in the Pacific Northwest for depleting the soil, but average rainfall for Seattle and Dallas are almost the same. Plus the PNW benefits (if you want to call it that) from the occasional volcanic eruption, which should surely spread copious amounts of minerals. Everything says that the soils of the PNW are depleted, so I guess I can't argue with that, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to me."


While volcanic ejecta comes in many different forms, I doubt many would disagree that the Pacific Northwest is built largely on basaltic lava. There is very little in the mineral composition of basalt that is of benefit to grass plants.


Other than Mt. St. Helens, in about 1980, and Mt. Hood, in about 1805, I think most of the volcanic activity in the PNW ceased about 50,000 years ago. That's a lot of years of erosion. Plumes of ash spread far and wide, certainly, and no doubt replenished some soil minerals some places, depending on which direction the wind was blowing. Functionally, volcanic eruptions are not a reliable method of regular soil remineralization.



Then there were glaciers. I don't think the last ice age advanced this far south, so that's out.


In order for a grass plant to deliver broad scale nutrition to the animal that eats it, there must be about 18 different specific minerals in the soil, in some sort of balance, for the plant to photosynthesize all the phytonutrients that make our horses healthy. Albrecht is considered by many to be the "father of modern soil science", but your book will leave you needing more information. I do not think there is anybody, however, that specifically defined the links between soil fertility and complete nutrition provided by the forage that grows on that soil as Albrecht did. I have the better part of a book written about mineral fertility-to-phytonutrient biosynthesis based on my understanding of the process, but I got bogged down in research on trace minerals, many of which were unknown/not understood at the time your book was written. Modern research is geared more toward genetic manipulation, and so was completely irrelevant to my research.
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post #10 of 15 Old 02-12-2020, 07:16 AM Thread Starter
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Speaking of dung beetles, this article also sort of blew my mind. I knew about dung beetles, of course (what I don't know is why our fields don't seem to have any), and I knew about charcoal as a soil amendment, but the idea of feeding it to cattle to cut down on methane and improve the soil at the same time just seems amazing:

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/2...climate-change

I just saw the article late last night and only skimmed it. I'm going to go back and read it. I'm wondering, of course, if I could do the same thing with horses.

@dogpatch thanks for your answers, I'm sure I'll be posting more questions as I go through the book. Hopefully I won't have to stop every 10 minutes to try to get my head back together.
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