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Small Farm Horse Pasture 2 – Soil Preparation and Aeration

[Read Part #1 of this 3 Part series here]

As time has progressed, we’ve been able to set ourselves up with a small tractor and a few implements, so the method has improved somewhat from the HiLux and mesh days. We are still sowing the same seed blend, but with even more success now. So here’s how we do it these days…

Step 1 – Soil Preparation and Aeration:

  • Get an agronomist to conduct a soil test and analysis to determine if fertilizer or pH balancing (or both) are needed. It’s not a great expense and, if you follow the recommendations, this is fundamental to supporting strong pasture. When fertilizer has been needed on our place, we have used the traditional ‘super’ only on the very worst of our paddocks. The other paddocks get a dose of a pelletised organic fertilizer that spreads easily through our PTO seed spreader.
  • Order seed in early-to-mid autumn (or early-mid spring) and keep out of mice reach until needed.
  • Ensure tractor and implements are serviced and operational – ready to go.
  • From mid-to-late autumn (or mid-to-late spring) and while the ground is still warm (or getting warm), we watch the weather forecasts with great interest, then just after we get the first lot of decent rain, with some likely follow-up rain, we get the tractor out, hook up the bucket on the front and the aerator on the back, with harrows dragging behind the aerator.
    • Our tractor is a Kubota, 26hp, 4WD machine with a bucket, 3-point linkage and PTO. Unless you prefer to wheel-stand around the paddocks, the bucket (or a front counter-weight) is needed to offset the weight of the aerator.
    • The aerator is great for un-compacting ground which has been trampled by horses, vehicles, etc and for improving water penetration into the soil and subsoil. It has a series of knife-style spikes that can be adjusted to spike slots directly into the ground, or to spike and slightly cultivate the ground. We use the cultivate setting, as it spikes about 20cm into the ground at a bit of an angle and tends to flick-up a bit of soil for the harrows to mix in.
    • We use the harrows spiky-side down when behind the aerator to get maximum soil-fluff-up (there’s a technical term!).
  • Some Tips:
    • Remind yourself where any shallow pipes or underground services might be – you don’t want to puncture these with the aerator.
    • The aerator seems to work best with a bit of speed (fast jog or running pace if possible), so increase the revs and strap yourself in with the seatbelt as it can be a very bumpy ride on a small tractor.
    • Which brings me to PPE… Ladies, if you are the tractor driver, a very supportive bra is a must! I also have a memory foam cushion on top of the already padded seat to lessen the impact. Hearing protection and the usual sun and dust protection are also needed.
    • Due to the weight of the aerator, the tractor works best in 4WD.
    • Allow a bit more room for turning and cornering – when the aerator is spiking into the ground it can impair the expected turning ability of the tractor.
    • Keep an eye on your forward and rear swing – you’ve got a bucket sticking out the front and implements behind – quite easy to take out an unsuspecting star picket if you’re not paying attention!
    • Note: the aeration, preparation and sowing can also be done in early spring, which we have also had success with. This year we aim to do half our place in autumn and the other half in spring in the hope that the autumn pasture might be ready for some light grazing by springtime.

In the next blog, we’ll explain our sowing/seeding method.