Your livestock deserve a healthy well balanced diet. This is why you provide supplemental minerals and grain during the hard months. A pasture fed ruminant is as close to their ‘natural’ feed as possible.
The contrast are feed lot situations where these critters who are designed to break down tough grasses end up eating very processed silage, added corn, gluten, liquid protein and antibiotics. I much prefer the grass fed type any day and hope that you continue using pasture to feed your cattle, horses, goats, sheep and others.
A pasture can be a desolate place if the natural balance is unkempt. Nutrient cycling is something that is taught early in our schools in science classes. Most of us are aware of the water cycle what with evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. It seems that some farmers without a ‘crop guy’ like the big farms have to tell them exactly how much of this fertilizer to put where, we forget that nutrients cycle too.
A good indicator of pasture health is earth worm count. Recent research suggests that 25 earthworms per square foot is a nice amount of worms. From my own pasture count, this is high. I suppose that I could buy some earthworms like research articles suggest helps but I am confident that if I get my other non-living portions of the pasture in a good balance then the earthworm population should increase.
Even from a digging worms for fishing standpoint, 25 per square foot seems high and something to strive for. These insects digest plant material and pass soil through their digestive tract while moving and eating. They loosen soil which helps with water drainage and rooting. The higher the organic (dead plant) matter in the soil, the higher the likelihood of finding happy worms.
If you don’t already use the local Extension as a resource for your farm, I would highly suggest contacting them or at least checking out their website. For little or no fee they will send samples of your soil to the state college for analysis. This is what the big farmers have their “crop guy” come to the farm and do. They analyze the relationship between grazing creatures, plant types, soil type, soil pH, and the size of the pasture in comparison to the number of critters on it. With all of this in mind, they make an educated decision about what, if any, fertilizers to add to the soil. They might suggest mowing or introducing a new plant species into the mix. In a very abused pasture they might suggest tiling and sowing a whole new set of pasture plants.
If you have a pasture that looks green for at least a portion of the year, you are doing something right. The possibility exists, however, that you could increase the productivity of your pasture by making just a few slight adjustments.