Sunday, March 26, 2023
HomeNRCSSoil Health Principles Part 3 - Keep the Soil Covered

Soil Health Principles Part 3 – Keep the Soil Covered

This is the third in our series on soil health principles as presented by Buz Kloot, film maker and Research Associate Professor at the Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. We’re interested in principles because they provide the foundation for the decisions we make on a daily basis about how we manage our grazing and cropping operations. If you’ve missed any of the series, you can catch up here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Keep the soil covered.

You can’t spend much time at all in farming and ranching without hearing this. Plants, whether as cover or residue, protect the soil – keeping it cool in summer, and warm in winter. Cover also provides soil microbes with the food they need to their jobs for us, whether through root exudates or residue that microbes break down. Cover also prevents the invasive weedy species most folks dislike.

Here you can see the 20º difference in temperature between covered and bare soils.


In this video, Buz shows how gardeners, organic growers, and row crop farmers use cover crops to protect the soil. He also reveals his own special “6×6” tool for taking down the cover in his garden.

For a grazier, keeping the soil covered depends on managing for both residual and residue, as Jim Gerrish describes in this article. Though the two terms sound similar, they provide very different services for your pasture’s health. “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,” says Jim.

Tracking and managing grazing height is something we’ve spent a lot of time on in On Pasture. But for a quick overview, check out this two part series from Jim that comes with pictures and video:

How do you implement this principle on your operation? What are some of the challenges you encounter? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

Part 4 in the series is all about roots. Enjoy!

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. (I forgot if I sent this, so . . . )

    The part of Mr. Kloot’s clip showing his 6 X 6 method of knocking down the cover crop is priceless. It gives me other ideas, like getting a whole herd of little children involved.

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