Soil Sense
Soil Sense
Feb 22, 2021
Grazing Livestock for Soil Health
Play • 30 min

For many farmers on this journey to improve their soil health, incorporating livestock is something they hope to do in the future. This can and will introduce a whole new layer of complexity into the system. How many cattle are appropriate? What will they need in terms of fencing, water, etc.? What will the benefits be to the land? What should be considered in an economic arrangement with a rancher? These were some of the questions discussed on our grazing panel at the DIRT Workshop.

Today you’ll hear from:

  • Dr. Kevin Sedivec, Extension Rangeland Management Specialist at North Dakota State University Extension and Director of the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center
  • Dr. Miranda Meehan, Extension Livestock Environmental Stewardship Specialist also at NDSU
  • Jerry Doan, rancher from McKenzie, ND

Also on this panel was Mary Keena, Extension Livestock Environmental Management Specialist at NDSU. But you won’t hear from Mary today, as we’re going to do a full episode with her on compost and manure later in this season.

“Just the idea of the hoof action and the urine and the manure that creates this different micro-population that adds a new value and a new component that then benefits your soil microbic population, which then helps you break down and create more organic matter in time. So livestock to me is one of those tools that in my opinion has been a no brainer to add. It's a quick way to add economic return on that land base.” - Dr. Kevin Sedivec

Dr. Sedivec goes on to highlight that long term management adjustments should be seen as a long term investment. “Don’t expect to see dollar savings the first year you do this.”  Continuing soil health practices and incorporating livestock over multiple years will provide the best benefit for producers. Admittedly, it is a complicated process to isolate the value the livestock bring to the cropping system and the cropping system brings to the livestock. Dr. Miranda Meehan is involved in research to better define and answer that problem.  Her studies focus on the “carrying capacity” of fields that incorporate the type of cattle to be added, the life-stage they are in, the length of time for grazing and the amount of cover crop residue the producer wants to maintain. She also offers how to choose the appropriate cover crop mixture that works well for your operation and helps “increase nutritional quality and maintain the nutritional plain” for the grazing livestock.

“You know, people ask me all the time, can I build soil health without livestock? And I say, yeah, sure, you can, but you'll get there 10 times faster with livestock.” - Jerry Doan

Doan’s operation has three main goals at the moment; trying to reduce winter feed costs, increasing the soil health of his crop lands and incorporating wildlife preservation into his operation. Doan shares all the many signs he has seen on his land that indicate increased soil health including worm populations and better granulated soil.


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Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.

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