“Healthy forages promote healthy soils, and vice versa,” says John Jennings, University of Arkansas extension forage specialist. “It’s hard to dramatically improve production on a low-fertility soil.”

Jennings doesn’t buy into the notion that by doing nothing more than trampling old, mature forage into the ground will unlock previously unavailable nutrients and magically boost soil organic matter. If this is the case, he wants to see data to support such a claim.

In a recent issue of the university’s Animal Science E-News, Jennings suggests that before livestock producers subscribe to the “grazing system of the month” club, they first take tally of their soil fertility and organic matter. “You have to know how much gas is in the tank,” he says.

“Grazing animals do not improve soil fertility; they merely recycle nutrients already in place,” notes Jennings. “The only way to truly improve soil fertility status is to apply fertilizer, import nutrients from off-farm feed sources, or bring in manure or poultry litter from off-farm,” he adds.

Though knowing the soil’s fertility status is fundamental, Jennings notes that management strategies to rectify any deficiencies or reduce purchased fertilizer inputs are also in play. He cites their success in improving nutrient-deficient areas by simply using these as hay feeding sites. He also notes the importance of legumes as a means to reduce nitrogen fertilizer inputs.

Once soil fertility is in line, healthy and productive forages will follow. The combination of good forage growth and proven rotational grazing strategies will lead to healthy soils as nutrient recycling is maximized. There are no shortcuts, according to Jennings.