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Soil Compaction

Soil CompactionCore aerating pulls 3 to 4 inch cores of soil (Source - Cornell University)

Compaction of the soil surface can greatly reduce rainfall storage and increase runoff and erosion. A porous soil improves plant vigor by allowing the infiltration of water, air, and nutrients. Hoof impact and machinery operation on wetter fields compact soils and intensify loss of this porosity.

Soils that are higher in clay content are more susceptible to hoof compaction than sandier soils.

One of the methods commonly used to reduce soil compaction is to aerate. Aerators are available for purchase or rent and easily hook up to a tractor with a 3-point hitch. Core aerating, which pulls 3-4 inch cores of soil, is generally more beneficial than tine aeration, which cuts narrow 2-3 inch slots. The best time to aerate is in the spring or early summer when grasses are growing most actively. Aerating can be done as part of a fertilizing and reseeding process. Aerate when soils are not wet.

A more involved way to improve infiltration on compacted animal areas is deep chiseling or subsoiling. This consists of running of a shank 12-18 inches deep that penetrates and shatters the compacted layer. This can only be done in the summer, at the driest soil conditions. Followed with overseeding and dragging, the process can renovate the pasture. On steeper slopes, all tillage operations should be on the contour.

Web Soil Survey

Soil data and information produces by the National Cooperative Soil Survey are available on the Web Soil Survey, operated by the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Soil maps and data for 20 of New Jersey's 21 counties can be accessed there. The site is updated and maintained online as the single authoritative source of soil survey information.

For more information, visit the NJ NRCS website soils page at

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New Jersey Pasture Management Guide for Horse Owners

Pasture Management Guide for Horse Owners (PDF, 2.15 MB)