Chapter 18

Soil Management for Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems

(book excerpts)

Although raising livestock and crops together used to be the norm, in the United States farm production has shifted to increased specialization because of presumed management efficiency. Considerable research, however, has found that reintegrating animals into crop production systems yields considerable benefits in improved soil tilth and fertility, reduced risks associated with raising a single product, reductions in fertilizer input and animal feed costs, reduced labor and machinery costs, and the soil’s potential to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Specific soil health indicators that correspond to an increased potential for carbon capturing are shown to be higher in mixed animal-crop systems. Grazing cropland improves soil fertility by increasing soil microbial density and organic matter due to the addition of manure. It can also provide significant benefits for farmers who use cover crops and no-till methods as the animals can graze the cover crops while lightly integrating their manure into the soil with their hooves. Managed grazing and crop rotation techniques work best with this approach to avoid over-compaction of the soil.

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