It’s no secret that healthy cattle require nutrient-rich pastureland on which to graze, and that’s why it’s important for farmers to have reliable soil management practices in place. After all, forage health is directly related to soil health.
As a result, many farmers are turning to methods like soil remineralization and rotational grazing to reduce the impact of livestock on soil while improving its quality.
“If livestock are eating higher quality forage, they are more likely to grow better and have an overall healthier lifestyle,” says Cameron Flowers, Correspondent Lender for AgAmerica Lending in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. “If the animal is healthier and happier, its meat is of better quality when it reaches the consumer.”
Likened to crops’ immune systems, soil remineralization determines a plant’s health and the nutrient density of the plant’s produce. In short, soil remineralization creates healthy, balanced soil by ensuring it has optimal levels of macronutrients and organic matter.
Dr. Maria Lucia Silveira, associate professor at the University of Florida’s Range Cattle Research and Education Center, recommends farmers first test their soil by collecting a soil sample that’s representative of the area of interest, then have the sample analyzed by a reputable laboratory to determine the soil’s chemical and physical properties. Based on soil test results, cost-effective fertilization programs can be developed to optimize crop production.
If the soil is deficient in a macronutrient like nitrogen, phosphorous, or potassium, or a trace mineral or nutrient such as chlorine, iron, and zinc, a farmer’s next step is to carefully add the missing elements back in.
Restoring the soil is critical because plants are only as strong as their weakest link. If the soil is deficient in a particular element, the plants it produces will be, too, as well as the cattle grazing the land.
In addition to improving soil fertility, rotational grazing is a method of sustainable agriculture that can have a significant impact on soil health. Essentially, implementing a rotational grazing program means cattle are moved to different sections of their pasture on a set schedule, giving soil an opportunity to recover and grow fresh forage.
The process differs from continuous grazing, which can be damaging to soil because cattle will typically eat the savoriest grasses first and neglect less palatable areas, leaving portions of the pastureland overgrazed and others undergrazed. Hunter Helms, Correspondent Lender for AgAmerica Lending in Texas, notes “overgrazed grasses and plants are less healthy than those that have had time to develop a good root system. Well-developed roots will lead to more organic matter and, ultimately, healthier soil conditions.”
Furthermore, when forage does not have relief from cattle grazing, it can lose the ability to regrow.
“Rotational grazing is a huge component in helping keep your soil and pastures in top condition,” Flowers adds. “Rotating cattle consistently throughout different pastures or paddocks benefits the forage and soil in several ways. The forage is only eaten to a pre-determined, uniform length, and isn’t scalped to the ground in spots. There isn’t as much wear and damage to the grass because the cattle are not continuously walking over the pasture: they get in, eat the grass to the desired length and are then moved to the next pasture. This allows the grass to recover and rejuvenate its growth. Also, the fertilizer from manure is spread more consistently when rotating, which further benefits the soil.”
In addition, Flowers says it’s common for farmers with smaller operations to incorporate chickens into their rotational grazing regimes.
“The chickens eat the bugs and worms left behind by the cattle, and they add another layer, or application, of fertilizer to the soil,” Flowers says.
Cattle Grazing Infographic: