Beautiful Cows Grazing on Lush Pasture

Livestock farms in Vermont can improve soil and water quality through pasture management.

Farmers’ management practices have a direct effect on soil and water conservation.  Keeping soils well covered at all times (no matter what you are growing) is a sustainable and desirable practice also in well-managed pastures.

The top layer of a healthy soil holds an amazing amount of bacteria, fungi and insects — so much that it actually outweighs the livestock that live on its surface.  Soil biodiversity influences soil structure and quality by disabling
erosion, and so improves water quality.  By keeping soils covered and without overgrazing, moisture stays in the soil longer, fostering healthy, sustainable and diverse ecosystems. Healthy soils soak up large quantities of water which after being used by plants is slowly released to waterways. 

When livestock graze, pastures shed (or shut down) proportionally the same root area in the soil, which along with manure and urine, feeds beneficial microorganisms. In order to maintain well managed pastures, it is necessary to rotate animals between fenced-in paddocks, which can be done simply by using electric fence. Each paddock allows animals lush forage (between 6 to 8 in height), leaving a minimum of 4 in of residual forage. 

More subdivisions of pastures enhance ecological benefits improving production but imply higher costs and labor. Soil fertility and quality enhancements occur when plants and soils have enough time to recover between grazings.  Animals place great amounts of manure and urine directly on the pastures. For example, each adult cow can deposit over 200 lbs. of nitrogen and over 100 lbs. of phosphorus, potassium and calcium per year ensuring enough nutrients for plants to re-grow.

Top Recommendations for Soil Conservation on Your Livestock Farm

Well-Managed Pasture Results in Healthy Soil Rich in Organic Matter
  • Pasture management can help build soil health and improve water quality.
  • Allow pastures enough time for rest and recovery.
  • Keep soils covered.  Bare soil increases erosion and runoff, compromising water quality.
  • If unsure, use Greg Judy’s rule: “graze half, leave half.”

Download this information.

Roots Show the Difference in How Grazing Affects Plant & Soil Health

Download a .pdf file version of this information here.PDF icon Pasture Improvement Tool: Soil Conservation

 

 

 

 

 

Interested in knowing more about the Center's work or do you have a question we haven't answered here?  Call us at 802-656-5459 and we'll do our best to help.

Contact

  • Help with a plan for grazing your livestock:  Kimberly Hagen at  802-656-3834 or.kimberly.hagen@uvm.edu
  • General inquiries and potential partnerships: Jenn Colby at 802-535-7606 or jcolby@uvm.edu
  • Vermont Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program Education Coordinator Mary Ellen Franklin at MaryEllen.Franklin@uvm.edu
  • Pasture walks and other upcoming events: Colene Reed at colene.reed@uvm.edu
  • Help with your Connecticut River watershed farm, including nutrient management and other water quality-related issues: Laura Johnson at laura.o.johnson@uvm.edu
  • Research questions or ideas: Juan Alvez at 802-656-6116 or juan.alvez@uvm.edu
  • Include pasture-related events in online or email Pasture Calendars: Cheryl Herrick at cheryl.herrick@uvm.edu

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