Submitted to: USDA-ARS Research Notes
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/5/2009
Publication Date: 8/5/2009
Citation: Franzluebbers, A.J. 2009. Won’t soil be damaged if cattle graze cover crops?. JPC Research Note 19. 2009.
Technical Abstract: Integration of crops and livestock could provide economic benefits to producers by intensifying land use and improving resource efficiency, but how this management might affect soil compaction, water infiltration, and soil strength has not been well documented. Key factors in balancing cattle production with environmental quality are (1) matching stocking density with forage availability and (2) limiting access of cattle to vulnerable parts of the landscape, such as natural water sources or shaded areas that can result in heavily trafficked and damaged vegetation. Cover crops, such as annual grasses, small grains, and forage legumes following grain or fiber crops, would be excellent sources of high-quality forage that could be utilized in integrated crop-livestock systems. Cover crops (winter or summer) can provide high-quality forage and increase economic return and farm diversity, but farmers have been reluctant to take this advantage due to perceived “compaction” caused by animal trampling. Grazing of cover crops does indeed compact soil, but not to the detrimental levels often perceived. Crop and cattle producers who adopt integrated crop-livestock systems are encouraged to utilize conservation tillage management techniques to help preserve surface soil organic matter and prevent deterioration of soil quality. Recommendations are applicable to small- and medium-sized farms throughout the southeastern USA.