The quality of grass-fed beef depends upon the quality of the grass the beef is feeding on. And the quality of the grass depends upon the quality of the soil.
There are five recognized primary functions of healthy soil:
Water enters a field via two main vectors, rainfall and irrigation. But regardless of how the water arrives, the soil determines where the water goes from there. Either the water will be absorbed into the soil, or the water will flow over the soil to be absorbed elsewhere. This varies based on the amount of organic matter in the soil. Soils with two percent organic matter will retain 21 percent of a 5.5-inch rainfall, but a soil with eight percent organic matter will retain 85 percent of that same rainfall.
Sustaining Plant and Animal Life
The diversity and productivity of living things depend on soil. Various microorganisms call soil home, most of which serve a beneficial function to the soil – protozoa regular bacterial growth, nematodes help control diseases, and earthworms break down plant residue. These, in turn, promote healthier plant growth, and subsequently, support the livestock that feeds on these plants.
Filtering Potential Pollutants
The minerals and microbes in soil are responsible for filtering, buffering, degrading, immobilizing, and detoxifying organic and inorganic materials, including industrial and municipal byproducts and atmospheric deposits. A healthy ecosystem of microbes contributes to the efficiency of this process.
Surplus nutrients, such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus are stored, transformed, and cycled in the soil. Each organism that interacts with the soil takes what it needs to support itself, and leaves behind what it doesn’t, only for the next organism to pick those nutrients up for its own use.
Any structure that is built upon soil by human hands depends on that soil’s integrity to remain upright. Even with concrete foundations and steel construction, a building set upon weak soil is going to topple.
So how do you keep soil healthy?
- Rotate the plants grown. Each plant requires a unique combination of nutrients to thrive, and repeatedly growing one single plant without replenishment will deplete the soil.
- High-density grazing. Move the cattle through your fields fairly quickly, not allowing too many bites of a single plant. Then, give the plants time before grazing again.
Keep it cool. As temperatures rise, more water is lost to evaporation. Consider planting trees for shade.