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Using Subsoiling to Reduce Soil Compaction in Pastures

Collaborator: Mackay Ross, Cleardale

Research Coordinator: Dr. Akim Omokanye

Research Technician: Dr. Lekshmi Sreekumar

From: Peace Country Beef & Forage Association 2016 Annual Report

On beef cattle operations, at some point, forage production of hay fields and pastures will no longer meet minimum production expectations based on previous years’ production. This could be due to several factors such as reduced stand vigour, invasion of less productive plant species, over grazing, reduced soil fertility and general poor soil health. The consistent use of heavy machinery for conserved forage production practices (hay, haylage, greenfeed or silage production) or cattle trampling in pastures have been identified as factors responsible for compacted soil layers in beef cattle production systems. Compacted soils could restrict water infiltration into soil, root penetration and nutrient uptake, and reduce soil respiration by reducing pore space and limiting oxygen diffusion. The overall effect of compacted and unhealthy soil is reduced forage yield.

Rejuvenation of old forage stands is always a complex and costly challenge for beef cattle producers. Studies have shown that subsoiling could be used to loosen the compacted soil layers, allowing roots to penetrate deeper into the soil profile, increasing water infiltration and retention, increasing air spaces in the soil and improving conditions conducive to biological activity and overall soil health. Subsoiling fractures compacted soil without adversely disturbing plant life, topsoil, and surface residue. In choosing the type of subsoiler, the objectives of the operation and the field characteristics must be taken into account. The objective of this study was to conduct a preliminary assessment on the suitability of different types of subsoilers (in combination with or without rolling) for reducing soil compaction, improving water infiltration and increasing forage yield.


An on-farm study was conducted from fall (October 2015) to summer (July 2016) on a pasture paddock in Cleardale. The paddock was initially seeded to creeping red fescue. Alsike clover was later broadcast (12 years later, 2011) onto the paddock.