How Soil Health Can Transform Ranching
by Jamie Nix on 26/Apr/23
Soil health plays a critical role in the productivity of livestock and ranch operations. Decoding biological soil health can help farmers and ranchers increase their feed production and provide livestock with plenty of nutritious forage, all while empowering sustainable land.
How can soil health impact ranch operations?
In this post, we will explore some essential ways that soil health can impact ranch and livestock health and productivity, as well as some best practices for promoting healthy soil.
Key Benefits of soil health for ranch operations
The following are some significant benefits that can be achieved when ranch soils are healthy:
1. Forage production: Healthy soil provides the nutrients, water, and structure necessary for high-quality and high-yield forage, from pasture to hay.
2. Animal health: High-quality forage grown in healthy soil is better able to meet the nutritional needs of livestock.
3. Water retention: Healthy soil retains water, which supports forage growth and provides drinking water for animals.
4. Erosion reduction: Soil health practices, such as cover cropping, building windbreaks, and reducing tillage, can cut soil erosion to the betterment of forage and livestock production.
5. Environmental impacts: Healthy soil can positively impact the environment, from reducing greenhouse gases to improving water quality and biodiversity, creating a resilient ecosystem that better sustains livestock.
Let’s dive deeper into some of the key benefits of ensuring soil health on the ranch.
How can soil health impact forage production?
A major livestock feed source is forage, which is directly impacted by the soil in which it grows. If you have ever wondered how your pasture management is faring, follow your livestock. Grazing animals often make feed choices that reflect the fertility of the soil.
Healthy soil provides the structure, organic matter, nutrients, and water availability necessary for promoting healthy forage production, resulting in higher feed yields and quality. It also encourages plant biodiversity, which can make a broader range of nutrients available to animals.
How can soil health impact animal health and productivity?
The nutritional value of forage is influenced by the health of the soil it is grown in. A healthy soil with a balanced nutrient profile will produce high-quality forage that meets the nutritional needs of livestock. In contrast, nutrient-deficient soil can lead to forage that is low in nutrients, which can negatively impact animal health.
Animal diseases can also stem from sources of infection transmitted via the soil. Good soil and grazing management practices, such as pasture rotation and feed crop rotation, can help control soil-borne pathogens and parasites.
How can soil health impact water availability and quality?
The structure of healthy soil has ample porosity and stable aggregates. Soil with good structure is better able to absorb and store water. It also ensures that less water runoff occurs, to prevent sediment, input, and nutrient pollution in nearby streams, rivers, and lakes.
The soil structure can be preserved through effective grazing management, such as reducing compaction and enabling better water infiltration rates and higher water availability to plants and animals. Additionally, healthy soil practices, such as keeping soil protected with plant cover, can reduce soil loss to erosion and protect nearby waterways.
How can soil health impact environmental and economic sustainability?
In addition to improving water quality, healthy soil can have positive environmental benefits that can indirectly impact livestock productivity. Soil health practices can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase biodiversity, which can help to create a more sustainable and resilient ecosystem for livestock.
When it comes to economics, healthy soil function can help ranchers improve pasture and livestock productivity and reduce soil input costs to increase profitability. Leveraging state-of-the-art biological soil testing, ranchers and farmers can have the tools in hand to understand and interpret soil functionality and maximize their business outcomes.
Best Practices for Promoting Soil Health in Ranch Operations
Soil health management practices, such as cover cropping and reduced tillage, can help reduce soil erosion and the impact it has on both forage production and quality. Good grazing management, including rotational grazing and avoiding overgrazing, are also key. Implementing a short grazing period with a long recovery time per paddock, for example, can ensure a consistently high soil cover.
Silvopasture, is another practice of managed grazing, which integrates trees on the land with forage and livestock. Livestock operations share space with crop production, and the trees can provide the animals with fodder, fiber, and shelter while protecting the soil.
Incorporating windbreaks in tree planting—a line of trees or shrubs to reduce wind—can create more favorable conditions for soil, crops, and livestock. Windbreaks can help stop soil erosion, protect animals and crops, and foster crop pollination by insects.
Overall, soil health is essential for supporting the productivity of ranch and livestock operations. Healthy soil provides the nutrients, water, and structure necessary for forage growth, which in turn supports the livestock's nutritional needs and health. By prioritizing soil health, ranchers and livestock producers can improve their productivity, reduce their environmental impact, and create a more sustainable and resilient operation. And BeCrop® Test can help.
A single BeCrop® Test can provide a user-friendly report on soil health, nutrient cycling, and biodiversity, to provide reasons for yield changes, predict disease risk, and identify areas for improvement on any field.