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Is It Residual or Is It Residue?

By   /  February 15, 2016  /  1 Comment

“Residue” and “Residual” may sound similar, but they provide very different services for your pasture’s health. Jim explains the difference with tips for what you should be paying attention to.

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A lot of people in grazing circles seem to use these terms interchangeably, but in grazing science they mean two very different things. Residual is the living plant material left behind after a grazing event. For clarity we often say ‘post-grazing residual’. Residue is dead plant material left on the soil surface. It is synonymous with litter or duff.

Post-grazing residual is what we leave standing in the pasture following a grazing event. In the growing season in a temperate environment, the residual should be green and leafy.

JimGerrishCowsResidual

Leaving the appropriate residual largely determines the recovery rate of the pasture. The more green leaf residual, the faster plants regrow.

Residue is the dead or soon-to-be-dead plant material at the bottom of the canopy and in contact with the soil surface. Residue decays from the bottom up to become incorporated into the soil organic fraction. Residual provides the regrowth base for the next grazing crop.

Residue and Residual

Leaving the appropriate residue is an essential component for moderating soil temperature and building an effective water cycle. In a thinner pasture stand with low density of living plants we want to make sure the entire soil surface is covered with residue (litter). We always want to leave green leaves behind as well.

Jim Gerrish Residue

In rugged rangeland environments keeping the soil covered is critically important to developing a functioning water cycle. We can only create residue (litter) by growing plants above ground. Long recovery periods are the key to building residue in drier environments.

Jim Gerrish Residue Residual Rangeland

We are always tempted to graze more severely in the dormant season because we have the idea that grazing severely won’t hurt a dormant plant. We need to be thinking about the bigger picture of the total soil-plant-animal interface. Leaving adequate residual and residue protect the soil even in the winter and moderates soil temperature.

Jim Gerrish Dormant Season Grazing

The greatest challenge of grazing in arid environments is growing enough above-ground plant material to still have enough residue left after grazing to create the litter layer. This pasture needs more residue left on the soil to create better water infiltration opportunity and keep the soil cooler.

Jim Gerrish Arid Grazing Residue

Both residual and residue are important management considerations and affect almost all soil-plant-animal relationships. Let’s try to make sure we use the right terms in our conversations so we know what one another are trying to express!

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About the author

Jim Gerrish is the author of "Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming" and "Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing" and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO's to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.

1 Comment

  1. Frank Egan says:

    G’day,an excellent article.Its worthwhile re-reading so as to get a complete understanding of what the author is trying to get across to the reader.Frank

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