Why The Land Needs Animals to Graze

Have you ever met someone who argued that livestock has a negative impact on the environment? Well, this is simply not the case. In fact, livestock significantly improves the health of its environment in several ways. In this article we’ll discuss why animals are so important for the health and development of the land, what are the benefits of grazing, what is rotational grazing, what is the necessity of trampling, the power of animal digestion, why nutrient distribution is absolutely essential and more.

What does grazing mean, exactly?

Grazing is another term for grasslands that are suitable for pasturage. It’s where animals can feed on growing grass throughout the pasture. It’s where animals can feed on growing grass throughout the pasture. When a plant is grazed, it most likely will lose all of its above-ground leaves and stems. This causes the plant to try and replace and regrow those lost materials as quickly as it can. But what does it need in order to grow? Yep, nutrients. In order to obtain these nutrients, the plant will start putting out huge amounts of energy into the soil (also known as exudating). While plants do this most of the time regardless, it does it far more than usual to obtain these nutrients and regrow. This makes the food web in the surrounding soil go into a state of overdrive for a little while.

Luckily, the grassland plants you see in the grazing pastures have had a chance to evolve in these types of conditions alongside grazing animals so they’re able to recover from grazing rather quickly. The means the food web in the soil is able to go into overdrive more often, even a few times a year. This process builds and builds, increasing the efficiency while also improving the health of the soil overtime.

Not only does it improve the health of the soil food web over time, but it increases the depth and matter of the soil over an extended period of time (if said soil is given a chance to recover from the grazing). The bottom line to take away is that grazing is what stimulates soil microorganisms and increases soil fertility.

You might be wondering, “what about just wild animals?” They graze too?” And you would be correct. However, the rate at which loads of livestock go through grazing pastures is significantly greater than wild animals. The more of the plant eaten, the more energy released by the plant into the soil because the plant is trying to regrow a greater amount of biomass. So naturally, the animals that eat more of the plants will have a bigger effect on the food soil web. However, it’s the recovery period to be concerned about. While lots of grazing can help improve the health of the soils ecosystem, not providing enough time for optimal recovery can do more harm than good. This is another reason livestock can be beneficial -- you’re able to control where they eat and how much damage they do. This is where rotational grazing comes into play.

Rotational grazing is when farmers move livestock to different sections of the pasture every set number of days in order to maintain health pastures. If livestock aren’t rotated properly, they’ll most likely target the most savory grasses first, overconsuming a particular section while less less palatable areas under-grazed. When animals favor a certain spot, it’s called “spot grazing.” They’ll keep going back to the same spot, not allowing the plants enough time to optimally recover.

The Importance of Trampling

I know what you’re thinking, “how could animals trampling over a plant play any sort of role in its growth?” Believe it or not, it can. Similar to grazing, when animals trample over plant lands, the the stems are typically broken in the process. The plant doesn’t know any different, so it’s as if it had been grazed. Which means it will take the same route of action. The soil food web will go into overdrive just like it does when the plants are grazed by the animals. However, trampling goes a step further. Trampling actually deposits a small layer of dead plant material on the soil. This is called “litter” or “mulch”.

So what does mulching do?

It has a number of benefits. For one, it reduces water evaporation from the soil. What does this mean? It slows the intensity of the wind on the mulched surface, which means it slows down the evaporation during the initial energy-limited stage of drying.

This layer of mulch also helps to provide a habitat for bugs and small rodents. While they might be looked at as pests, they are essential to any food chain. In fact, without them, the soil food web would be severly impacted in a negative way.

Another way in which the mulch improves the soil environment is that it creates organic matter. This is key as it’s basically creating more food for the soil microorganisms to eat in order to grow and be incorporated into the soil. Without this process, the soil can’t properly provide enough water and nutrients to keep the cycle going.

The final benefit of mulch to address is that it acts as a protective surface for the soil. What is it protecting the soil from, exactly? It’s helping protect it from extreme temperature fluctuations which are harmful to different organisms of plants and soil. It also protects the soil and these organisms from solar radiation (which can be deadly).

Without a layer of mulch on the soil’s surface, the soil would be in big trouble. The water won’t be absorbed well enough, and the health of the soil itself will severely decline. Eventually the soil won’t be able to produce any beneficial plants, only weeds. This layer of mulch is absolutely essential for sustainable food production.

The Importance of Animal Digestion

Chances are you’ve never stopped and thought about the environment inside of an animals digestive system. But as it turns out, it’s one of the key players in the importance of farm and plant life. As you can imagine, the gut of a cow is a lot different than any other environment. The inside of an animals digestive system is always moist and very warm. Why is this important?

The animals digestive system is unlike any other environment, there’s different processes going on, different organisms, different factors that any other environment would be unable to replicate.

The digestive system of animals allow easily accessible nutrients and without them, those available nutrients would be gone as well. This means that ultimately the plants would suffer and many might not even be able to grow at all. That’s where fertilizer can be a helpful tool. The main difference between manure and fertilizer is that the manure from animals is not harmful to soil organism and is way more sustainable.

But why is livestock specifically helpful to cycle nutrients?

When it comes to the life cycle of nutrients to the soil, you would think it wouldn’t necessarily matter if it was livestock or not, right? Well, think again. If you think about it, an animal (or a whole population of animals) that can consume the most vegetation and those in which can digest cellulose can, in return, provide the most beneficial cycle of nutrients.

You see, most of the plants in the pasture consist of cellulose (a structural part of the cell wall in green plants). It’s no surprise that animals (or multiple animals at once) that have the ability to digest cellulose in its own body can significantly speed up the cycling of nutrients in comparison to an animal that leaves the cellulose in its feces, requiring the cellulose to instead be decomposed by soil organisms. Think about how long it takes for a leaf to decompose on the surface of the soil.

Yikes.

Pastures and other ecosystems alike have evolved with groups of cellulose-digesting animals. This is why the nutrient cycling has become so efficient. Without these animals to properly digest the cellulose, the plants are limited in their potential to grow which only ends up placing limits on every other part of the cycle as well. After a whlie, the lack of growth might have a severe deficiency on the needs of the plant.

There is a large number of evidence showing that we do, in fact, need grazing animals in order to not only improve the quality of our pastured lands but to ensure the cycles for the soil and nutrients are maintained in order for more plants and vegetation to grow. Having livestock and animals in large groups that have the ability to digest cellulose and help the nutrient cycling process is key to any healthy farm or pastured-lands hoping to maintain a high quality ecosystem for both their animals and plants, resulting in better food and nourishment for everyone involved.