Ranchers might not give enough credit to their soil when it comes to optimizing their pastures. Soil can do quite a bit when it comes to recycling nutrients and making them available to plants, as well as keeping plants healthy.
The main principles for healthy soils are to:
- Know your context and evaluate your climate, geography, resources, skills, family dynamics, goals and any other factor that will influence you and your operation.
- Minimize disturbance to maximize soil function and plant health, including optimizing microbe activity to decompose organic material and make nutrients available to the plants.
- Keep soil covered to protect the soil from wind and water erosion and keep it cool in summer and warm in winter. Cover also provides soil microbes with the food they need to do their jobs
- Keep live roots in the soil to allow plants to create carbon-based sugars through photosynthesis. A sizeable portion of these sugars are transferred into the soil via the plant’s roots where it feeds the 1 to 2 tons of microbes living in the soil.
- Promote diversity to increase long-term carbon sequestration, provide wildlife habitat, increase resilience in drought and improve animal productivity.
- Integrate livestock so plants, soils and animals can flourish together as they have evolved to do. All are essential to a properly functioning ecosystem.
Download Soil Health Principles For Grazing Lands for more details. Also, check out this video where rancher Michelle Galimba talks about how she manages soil health. Galimba is a cattle rancher in Ka’u on Hawaiʻi Island where she runs Kua-hiwi Ranch with her brother, Guy. Their family ranch provides locally grown beef to supermarkets, farmer’s markets, and restaurants on O‘ahu and Hawaiiʻi Island.