Sustainable Management of Nutrients in Forage-Based Pasture Soils: Effect of Animal Congregation Sites (5 pp)
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- Sigua, G. & Coleman, S. J Soils Sediments (2006) 6: 249. doi:10.1065/jss2006.09.182
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Background, Aim and Scope
Grazing animals have a dominant effect on the movement and utilization of nutrients through the soil and plant system, and thus on the fertility of pasture soils. Grazing can accelerate and alter the timing of nutrient transfers, and increase the amount of nutrients cycled from plant to soil. Long periods, position of shade, and water resources for grazing cattle can influence the spatial distribution of soil biochemical properties including soil organic carbon (C), total extractable inorganic nitrogen (TEIN), and Melich 1 extractable total phosphorus (TP). The objective of this study is to test whether cattle congregation sites typical on most Florida ranches, such as mineral feeders, water troughs, and shade areas are more nutrient-rich and may contribute more nutrients to surface and groundwater supply than in other pasture locations under Florida conditions. Materials and Methods: Baseline soil samples around and beneath three congregations sites in established (>10 yr) grazed beef cattle pastures at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Subtropical Agricultural Research Station (STARS), Brooksville, FL, were collected in 2003, 2004, and 2005. Results: The levels of soil TEIN and TP were significantly (p ≤ 0.001) affected by the interaction of congregation sites and distance away from the center of the sites. Mineral feeders had the highest concentration of TP followed by shades and water troughs. The concentrations of soil TP decreased almost linearly with distance (x = meter) away from the center of the mineral feeders (-5.24x + 55.10; R2 = 0.92; p ≤ 0.001) and the shades (-6.25x + 57.21; R2 = 0.85; p ≤ 0.001). However, the level of TP around the water troughs (-0.25x + 16.91; R2 = 0.09) does not appear to change significantly with distance, staying close to about 13-18 mg kg-1. The levels of TEIN decreased linearly with distance away from the mineral feeders from the center of the shades. A linear model can describe the relationship between TEIN and distance away from the center of shades: -11.3x + 78.2; R2 = 0.95; p ≤ 0.001. The shaded sites (34.25 ± 1.7 mg kg-1) had higher levels than the mineral feeders (7.22 ± 0.60 mg kg-1) or water troughs (10.06 ± 0.8 mg kg-1) sites. Discussion: The higher soil TP near and around the mineral feeders can be attributed to the presence of phosphorus in the supplemental feeds. The average level of soil TP in the mineral feeders of 34.05 ± 0.44 mg kg-1 was not high enough to be of environmental concern. Losses of soil phosphorus by overland flow are becoming a big concern when the concentrations for soil phosphorus exceeded 150 mg kg-1 in the upper 20 cm of soils. With TN, the shaded sites (34.25 ± 1.7 mg kg-1) had either higher levels than the mineral feeders (7.22 ± 0.60 mg kg-1) or water trough (10.06 ± 0.80 mg kg-1) sites. Higher TEIN content at the shade sites may have been more likely due to frequent urination of animals and lack of vegetation immediately adjacent to shades. The lack of vegetation within and/or near the shades then had no uptake mechanism for removal of inorganic nitrogen, unlike the heavy demand for inorganic nitrogen by bahiagrass in other areas of the pasture. An accumulation of TEIN immediately adjacent to shades could lead to a potential point source that would be susceptible to leaching or gaseous losses to the environment. Conclusions: Early results of the study are suggesting that cattle congregation sites in beef cattle operations in Florida are not nutrient-rich, therefore may not contribute more nutrients to surface and groundwater supply under Florida conditions. Recommendations and Perspectives: Since there is no apparent vertical build up or horizontal movement of TEIN and TP in the landscape, we can then surmise that cattle congregation sites may be considered not a potential source of nutrients at the watershed level, at least on the sand ridge soils in Florida. Further research is continuing, including sampling at cattle congregation sites at other locations in north and south Florida, which started in July 2004.