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HomeNRCSSoil Health Principles Part 4 - Keep Live Roots in the Soil

Soil Health Principles Part 4 – Keep Live Roots in the Soil

Principles 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, Part 2, and Part 3.

In this, the fourth in our series on soil health principles, Buz Kloot talks about how, through photosynthesis, plants create carbon-based sugars, a sizeable portion of which is transferred into the soil via the plant’s roots. There, it feeds the 1-2 tons of soil microbes living in the soil. In return, as they process the carbon found in the soil, the microbes help make needed nutrients available to the plant. In a way, this symbiotic relationship is like the relationship we have with our livestock. We feed them, and they in turn feed us.

Roots in the soil then, mean more soil life and more soil organic matter. The soil structure is better so water infiltrates more readily, creating better growing conditions for plants. Roots also reduce compaction. In fact, as we’ve shared in the past, roots are better than any of our steel implements for reducing and preventing soil compaction. He even mentions here, that farmers who keep living roots in the soil have been able to put away their sub soilers!

For gardeners and row croppers (both organic and conventional) managing for this principle means planting and growing cover crops during those times when they are not growing their commercial crops. Buz describes the different kinds of cover crops that the producers in these videos use.

How Do Graziers Manage for Keeping Live Roots in the Soil?

In order to maintain healthy roots, we need to leave grazed plants with adequate leaf area, and we need to give them enough time to recover after being grazed. For more detail on what happens to recovery rates when we graze shorter and shorter, here is the first in a two part series from Dave Pratt.

In Part 2, he dives in to the nitty gritty of how you can figure out recovery times.

Then, to give you an idea of how that might look in action, as you consider your year-long grazing plan, here’s an article with some examples of what your grazing might look like as you work not to graze too short, and to provide adequate recovery. We have so many articles on grazing management that if you have other questions, I’m sure you can find answers in our archive. Just hover over that little magnifying glass in the right corner of the menu bar and put in your key words to find what you’re looking for. In the meantime, if you have suggestions or observations, do share them in the comments below!

Now it’s on to Part 5, and the importance of diversity!

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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. Kathy, really enjoying your articles on soil health. Thanks!
    I seem to remember reading somewhere that the methane in the breathe of grazing livestock can stimulate/attract soil microbes and fungi to grow. I was wondering whether you have any information on this or could point me towards some relevant articles. It would be really interesting to know more about this interaction (if it exists!).

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