If you go to enough workshops about grazing, you’re bound to see an illustration that shows how biting off the tops of plants impacts their roots, and how if you graze short enough, the plant won’t have enough roots to rebound and produce more leafy material. In fact, if you’ve been with us at On Pasture for any length of time, you’ll have seen a version of that illustration. It looks like this:
In addition to losing the ability to feed your livestock, short roots can’t hold the soil in place, let alone do their job of feeding soil microorganisms, creating a sponge to hold water, and pulling carbon from the air deep, deep into the soil where it can be sequestered. It’s that depth that makes the difference between carbon that “breathes” back and forth between the soil and the atmosphere, and carbon that is actually held long term.
So what do we mean by deep? Well, it turns out that many plants and icebergs have something in common. What you see above the surface is very small compared to what’s below. And now, thanks to Jerry Glover, who’s an agroecologist from Kansas, and Jim Richardson, a National Geographic photographer, you can get a good idea of the depths roots go to to do their jobs. You can read about the techniques they used to create these photos here, but what we’d like you to focus on is how far down into the earth you’re managing when you move your livestock across a pasture. Take a look: