Before letting our cows into the barn for milking, we’d spread barn lime on the walkway to prevent slipping.
Lime has many uses on a farm, including out in the pasture.
Lime is perfectly safe for cattle when used in moderation to correct the pH balance of pastures. If you are concerned about letting your cattle graze in a field recently treated with lime, wait until rainfall has washed the lime into the soil.
Keep reading to learn why spreading lime on your fields and pastures is part of a smart business plan for your crops and cattle.
How Does Lime Affect Cattle?
What Is Lime?
Limestone is a sedimentary rock.
When it is subjected to extreme heat, its calcium carbonate is changed into calcium oxide, creating lime (also called quick lime).
Essentially, lime is a crushed, powdered form of limestone.
This is compacted into lime pellets as well.
Both forms of lime contain a high amount of calcium and oxides.
When spread over the ground, it will dissolve into the soil when it rains.
Is It Safe For Cattle?
Yes, lime is safe.
The USDA recommends adding lime to fields to protect and preserve the soil for the future.
Not only is it safe, but it also provides a combination of benefits, which we’ll cover next.
The best time to apply lime is when the grass cover is low.
Rainfall will wash the majority of the lime down into the soil.
The lime remaining on vegetation will be a small amount, and it will not harm any grazing animals.
Why Should You Lime Your Pasture?
As a livestock owner, animal health is of utmost importance.
At the same time, you need to take care of your land.
Luckily, lime is good for both.
Think back to chemistry class.
You likely learned about the pH scale, which measures acidity.
The lower the pH, the more acidic it is.
- Acidic: 0 to 7
- Neutral: 7
- Basic: 7 to 14
Regarding soil, different plants grow best at different pH levels.
Grass and other crops grow best in soil with a neutral pH.
If the soil is too acidic, it will limit nutrients and stunt the plant’s roots.
Additionally, more acidic pH levels are bad for certain beneficial bacteria.
Because of this, some disease-causing fungi thrive and can harm your livestock.
Soil does not stay at the same pH.
Environmental factors affect how acidic or basic it is.
Over time, nutrients can change the soil’s pH level, such as acidic manure, acidic rain, or plants using nutrients.
The pH level then affects how well different plants grow and their nutrient composition.
This, in turn, affects how nutritious the grass is when your cattle eat it.
Liming your pasture will produce more nutritious grass, benefiting your cattle.
For example, with some pastures, the calcium will deplete over time.
The grass then contains little, if any, calcium.
Cattle need this nutrient in their diet for healthy bodily function.
Going too long without it can cause irreversible damage and adverse effects.
If you add lime, you do not have to worry about the calcium level being depleted.
How Do You Know If Your Fields Need Lime?
Low crop yield indicates the soil does not have the right composition of nutrients.
Testing the soil is the easiest way to know if your field has a deficiency.
Send a sample to a lab to determine the land’s health.
Depending on where you live, your local county office might be able to get the results back to you quickly.
The results will cover the soil’s chemical composition of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, sulfur, and potassium.
Based on those levels, they will develop a nutrient management plan.
Lime might be the best course of action if the soil is low on calcium or too acidic.
Related Reading: Will normal fertilizers hurt your cattle?
How to Lime Your Pasture
If you are lucky and live near a quarry, you might be able to buy limestone from a local source.
Otherwise, pellet and powder bags of lime are available at most farm and lawn stores.
The type of lime from different sources have slightly different compositions.
Compare different brands’ makeups to the results of your soil’s testing.
How Much Lime Should I Add?
The initial pH test and soil type will dictate how much lime to add to your field or pasture.
The management plan from your professional soil test will recommend how much lime to add.
A mildly acidic pasture will require 20 to 50 pounds of lime powder for every 1,000′ square feet.
If your pasture is very acidic, it will require a lot more.
The soil type is also extremely important to consider.
Different types will require more lime to correct the acidity.
To raise the pH by one point, you’ll need the following amount of lime per 100′ square feet.
- Sandy loam soil: 5 pounds
- Medium loam soil: 7 pounds
- Heavy clay soil: 8 pounds
Using the results of your soil test, the type of soil, and the square feet of your pasture, calculate how much lime you need for your pasture.
Use a lime fertilizer designed for pastures like this one on Amazon for the best results.
How to Spread Lime on Your Pasture
Since you know how much lime to add to your pasture, it’s time to apply it.
The best time to add lime is when the grass cover is low and 4 to 6 months before you need the ideal pH level.
If you practice rotational grazing, add the lime to a pasture while your beef or dairy cattle are in a different one.
Pastures are large swathes of land, so you need large equipment to spread them.
Either use your spreader or rent one from a local agriculture store.
In the long run, you will only need to spread lime every few years, so the cost of buying and maintaining a spreader may not be worth it in your case.