Farmer holding soil in hand

How Your Cows Can Cultivate Your Soil Through Managed Grazing

One of the more amazing miracles of life is photosynthesis, the process in which plants turn sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into sugars and other metabolites needed to sustain their life, and the environment around them. Amazingly, all life on earth depends upon this singular process, and as a farmer or rancher, your success and livelihood are inseparably linked to it.  

Why Good Grazing Management Matters

Incredibly, up to 30% of the sugars a plant works so hard to create (through photosynthesis), end up being excreted through its roots to feed the soil microbial population surrounding its roots (an area called the rhizosphere) in exchange for nutrients microbes supply to the plant. In a sense, plants farm the microbial population around their roots forming a critical relationship that is beneficial to both the plant and the soil food web which is the complex relationship between microbes and small creatures like earthworms, which is critical for soil and plant health.  

Lots of different species of plants create this type of relationship with beneficial microbes surrounding their roots, however, grasses because of their massive fibrous root systems are especially good at this, making grass a key species for improving soil health. 


Interestingly, good grazing maximizes this process by encouraging grass to photosynthesize in order to re-grow and by keeping the grass in a vegetative state for a longer period which means more photosynthesis and more creation of that sugar that is excreted into the soil to feed microbes. The longer grass is vegetative (in a state of growth) the greater the amount of root exudates will be secreted by the grass. And the more exudates, the more abundant and diverse the soil microbial population will be, and then, in turn, the more abundant beneficial insects such as earthworms, which feed on the microbes, will be. 

This highlights the important role that you as a grazing manager play in influencing this process. Grazing can be amazingly beneficial to soil health when conducted properly. However, it can be equally destructive to soil health when conducted without proper management. The difference between grazing being regenerative or degenerative to soil health is almost entirely linked to grazing management.  

Here’s why: continuous grazing decreases soil health over time because it leads to areas of over and under grazing within a pasture. This reduces plant health and decreases plant species diversity. On the other hand, well-managed rotational grazing, especially high intensity, short duration, full recovery grazing, (examples include adaptive grazing, holistic grazing, management-intensive grazing, etc.), builds soil health by maximizing photosynthesis and the benefit it provides to the soil food web.  

The incredible opportunity that you have as a livestock producer is to influence the amount of photosynthesis that takes place in your pastures through your grazing management. The story of grazing and soil health is as old as time. Grass and soil health are interconnected with grazing and when the process is managed properly, it keeps both healthy. 

Soil Organic Matter: The Height of Health

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the importance of sustainable ranching, and regenerative agriculture. However, there hasn’t been an adequate emphasis on, and explanation of how good grazing is critical for not only grass health and productivity but for improving soil health. Good grazing is the key to regenerative ranching!  

Grass must be grazed to remain healthy, however, too much and too frequent grazing is harmful. When grass isn’t grazed until it has grown to at least 8 – 12 inches tall and is never grazed below 4 inches short a miraculous symbiotic relationship is formed between the soil, the grass, and grazing. 

Soil Organic Matter (SOM) is one of the most common ways to measure general soil health. SOM below 2 - 3 is considered degraded soil by most experts. On cropland that’s been monoculture cropped for decades SOM usually hovers around 1 or 2 percent SOM. However, that same ground converted to perennial pasture and managed using adaptive rotational grazing can see SOM of up to 5+ within five to seven years depending on annual rainfall.  

irrigation field


That is highly significant considering that for every 1% increase in SOM you can see up to 20,000 gallons of additional water retained per acre of land depending on your soil type. What if more cropland was converted back to perennial pasture? For example, within a crop rotation system, all those benefits from improved soil health, increased SOM, greater soil water holding capacity, etc. will all be made available. 

Barenbrug USA isn't just another supplier – we're a fellow farmer in your fields, a passionate participant in the soil’s circle of life. Our seeds aren't just premium; they're partners in your quest for healthy soil. We offer a range of products that complement your commitment to rotational grazing and your quest for quality. Chat with a Barenbrug representative, and learn how our solutions can merge with your management, elevating your pastures to new green heights. Together, we can orchestrate a melody of soil care that will resonate for generations to come. After all, healthy soil begins at the root of every blade.


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