Animals & Soil Health: How Livestock Benefit the Land & Help Farms Thrive

written by

Nolan Masser

posted on

March 10, 2022

A couple of generations ago, all farms had animals freely roaming and grazing on their pastures. But as conventional farming entered the scene, livestock were instead tucked away in buildings. Conventional practices use a lot of the land’s resources without replenishing them. By that, we mean the vital nutrients that promote soil health. This affects the health of both the land and the animals.

At Red Hill Harvest, we are returning to the traditional, natural way of farming with animals. As a regenerative farm, our focus is on healthy soil – which requires healthy, free-range livestock. Discover how our animals and land work together to produce clean, nutritious food and help our farm thrive.

2 Ways Animals Boost Soil Health

Regenerative agriculture is a cycle: Healthy animals → Healthy soil → Healthy foods…and it goes round and round.

To maintain this beneficial cycle, we use rotational grazing and natural fertilizer. Both practices are essential to crop and soil health.

Rotational Grazing

So, what is rotational grazing, and why is it important? This means the animals graze only one section of pasture at a time while the remaining pasture rests. Livestock are moved from one paddock to another on a schedule. 

Rotational grazing ensures that the animals and the land are nourished. It also prevents overgrazing, which can damage soil fertility.

As our cows and chickens roam and graze our pastures, they help spread the minerals and nutrients evenly across the land – much more effectively than we can do on our own!

The animals also trample a good amount of grass and plants. Don’t worry, this is a good thing! Trampling creates a natural protective cover for the soil, keeping it healthy and full of carbon and other necessary nutrients (i.e., food for microorganisms).

As they graze, livestock work the soil naturally by: 

  • Aerating it and working in the seeds as they walk
  • Tilling
  • Scratching at the surface

Rotational grazing also fosters healthy pasture plants that help shade and protect the soil. This keeps the soil cooler and slows evaporation, so it doesn’t dry out. Meanwhile, their roots hold the soil, prevent erosion, and promote water absorption. These plants also add carbon back into the ground after grazing, which reduces global warming effects and boosts soil organic matter (i.e., all the good natural stuff that makes up healthy soil). 

Together, these happy effects promote plant and animal biodiversity! 

Natural Fertilizer

We fertilize our pastures with our animals’ manure, which allows us to reduce our use of artificial fertilizers. This is one of our key regenerative farming practices, as we aim to use fewer chemicals each year.

A farm is designed to be a closed nutrient system. Animals eat plants and fertilize the soil with their manure. The soil microbiome takes the nutrients from the manure and transforms them for plants to use to grow more food. In a properly functioning system, very little to no additional nutrients are necessary!

Cows also pass on many healthy bacteria to the soil through their manure. This builds up the topsoil and adds essential nutrients and minerals. Manure can fulfill a significant amount of a crop’s nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrient requirements. Cow manure specifically tends to contain lots of carbon, which is critical for increasing soil organic matter.

Like rotational grazing, manure helps improve the soil’s physical properties by:

  • Boosting its ability to absorb air and water, preventing water and nutrient runoff
  • Strengthening the soil to withstand wind and water erosion
  • Creating a healthy home for roots

These are crucial to maintaining soil health and, therefore, producing healthy crops.

At the end of the day, we know exactly what is going into our animals and our land – meaning we can provide health-conscious people like you like you with clean, nutrient-dense food!

How We KNOW Animals Make a Difference

We have seen how much livestock can improve soil health. In fact, they’ve helped us completely turn our farm around!

When we reintroduced animals to our farmland, some of it had been in the federal land bank for 25 years. This meant grasses were planted but never harvested – so it was on the verge of returning to woodland. The land was overgrown with six-foot-tall goldenrod. Instead of planting seeds, we began rotationally grazing our cattle. Two years later, the goldenrod had all but disappeared and been replaced by grasses and legumes. 

Nature supplied the grasses when the animals asked for them! There’s that regenerative cycle again. Since transforming our farm, we have also noticed a significant increase in all wildlife, from insects to birds to deer.

Our chickens follow the cattle and pick through the cow manure, eating the insects (including protein-rich grasshoppers) for a good portion of their diet. The yolks are a beautiful, dark orange color during the grazing season.

Animals are also healthier when they can roam and graze the land. As long as the cattle have a place to get out of the wind, they’re happy! Livestock raised on the land have more robust immune systems, even though they take a little longer to grow. Plus, their meat, eggs, or milk are much more nutritious – and they taste better, too.

While confinement buildings allow animals to grow faster because they move less and stay warmer, the animals actually become weaker and more susceptible to disease. This is a significant problem with the conventional food system that we are working to change.

Taste and feel the difference of regenerative agriculture when you shop our selection of grass-fed beef, fresh potatoes, pastured eggs, and fresh cabbage today. Or, feel free to contact us with more questions about our products and clean eating!

More from the blog

3 reasons why you should (NOT!) go vegan.

A recent study by Vegetarian Times shows that 7.3 million people follow vegetarian diets in the U.S.A. alone, and the number is rising daily!  It’s almost understandable why this trend is rising in a world full of fake news and food mislabeling. Recently, I did some research concerning these common misconceptions. Without further adieu, here are the top three reasons people go vegan (and the truth about these polarizing issues). #1 Environmental Impact Over 90% of all meat produced in America is raised in CAFOs. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) What is a CAFO, you ask? CAFO stands for Confined Animal Feed Operation and includes all farms that raise more than a set number of animals. For example, a CAFO of cattle is 1,000 animals, whereas a CAFO of chickens starts at 30,000. To learn more about CAFOs, click here. Large amounts of carbon emissions are released into the atmosphere in a CAFO. Feed needs to be grown, processed, and trucked in. Then, after feeding, the manure must be trucked out and spread onto farmland. This large amount of trucking and processing makes many of these CAFOs detrimental to our environment.  Arguably, the most significant environmental concern in our region (Mid-Atlantic) is the over-application of manure. If you drive through PA, NJ, MD, NY, or VA, you will see countless large poultry CAFOs. These farms generated millions of tons of manure, which was more than they could ever use to add fertility to the soils of their farms. This led to manure being over-applied, causing runoff and the pollution of streams and rivers. To help solve this problem in our community, the government (taxpayers) have financed a facility to dehydrate poultry manure to divert it away from the area. What should you do? Becoming vegan simply does not mean eliminating environmental issues. Each system of raising food has its own set of problems. Fruit and vegetable farming, processing, and trucking can be as bad as animal production. For example, most of the produce we eat on the East Coast must be shipped from California or other countries before it reaches our plate.  Click here to watch John Dutton from the show Yellowstone simple explanation on the issues of veganism.  Knowing where your food comes from is essential to combat these environmental issues. You can make a difference by sourcing your food from farmers who use green practices such as cover cropping and rotational grazing.  Cover crops pull carbon from the atmosphere into our soils, helping to counteract animal carbon emissions.  Rotational grazing leads to a healthy level of manure distribution throughout every acre without additional hauling. Invest in a farm whose practices work with nature rather than against it and whose goal is to regenerate the environment rather than sustain it.  #2 Animal Welfare In large confinement operations, animals are contained by the thousands. Although farmers must follow USDA’s requirements for sq. ft./ animal, disease can spread quickly when many animals are confined to a small area. Recently, the avian flu has been all over the news. This disease travels through wildlife and transmits to poultry through their saliva. It is a significant threat to poultry production in America.  Poultry is often raised in a confined house in a controlled environment. This environment is created to help keep the birds from getting ill from rain or cold weather. While it does a very good job of keeping them safe from the elements, it also weakens their immune systems because they are never exposed to harsh climates. When events such as the avian flu happen, problems arise because the flocks are not suited to protect themselves from this illness. We witnessed how this disease affected our local farms. A recent outbreak led to over 40,000 birds being killed due to their weak immune systems, which is a big problem for American farmers. The final and most concerning animal welfare issue in the vegan community is the treatment of animals.  Farmers often hire laborers to help with the day-to-day chores of farm life. These workers see so many animals daily that they can lose respect for the animals they care for. While every farm is not this way, we can not turn a blind eye to the fact that this mistreatment of animals does happen, and it is an issue that needs to be fixed. What should you do? This one is very straightforward. VISIT YOUR FARMER!!  Find a farmer who is willing to show you around their farm. Don’t trust a label in the supermarket; find a farmer you can trust, and be sure to ask him/her about their practices.  By visiting your farmer, you can know the food you put on your table was raised with respect and care. #3 Health  There’s no denying it: the cheapest meat you find on the supermarket shelf was likely raised using GMO feeds, antibiotics, and artificial growth hormones. These factors are beginning to appear as significant factors in the chronic disease epidemic our country is facing. Eating fruits and vegetables has undeniable health benefits for our bodies and well-being. However, vegetable and fruit farmers often use chemicals to control their fields' pests, which leads to the same problems production animal farming brings.   Another reason people are turning away from meat is for heart health, which is a legitimate concern with very fatty animals such as grain-fed beef. This fat contains cholesterol that is very high in saturated fat, causing many people with high cholesterol and heart issues to go vegan. What should you do? There’s no denying that a diverse diet is key to health. However, meat provides essential, natural nutrients not found in fruits, veggies, and nuts.  So, where do you turn for healthier meat? Stop going to the supermarket and head straight to your farmer. Buy grass-fed or pasture-raised meats, which are leaner and have less saturated fat than their grain-fed counterparts.  Grass-fed beef is becoming increasingly popular because of its higher concentration of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid). This acid helps to aid in weight loss and lower cholesterol. You can learn more about the fantastic benefits of CLA by clicking here. Why grass-fed or pasture-raised?  The microbes in a ruminant animal's (AKA Cow’s) gut make CLA. There is a higher microbe count in grass-fed beef because the plants they eat are alive and full of bugs! Recent studies have shown a 300%—500% increase in CLAs in grass-fed beef, making it a much better alternative to manufactured supplements, often made from seed oils like safflower and corn. Knowing all of the facts is essential before you go vegan. Don’t let yourself be misled by flashy marketing campaigns or cool packaging in the supermarket trying to persuade you to buy their food. Purchase your food from farms that you can visit. Talk to your farmer and ask him/her questions about how your food is raised, and make sure they know WHY they follow the practices they follow.  It is now more important than ever to have food you can trust. Click the link below and contact us to schedule a farm visit today! Talk to a farmer you can trust today! Red Hill Harvest Phone:(570) 900-1566 Email:

Farm Stewardship at Red Hill Harvest

Last Easter, I shared the fact that we always try our best to nurture our community and environment through decisions based on our faith, ancestorial knowledge, and new information gained from experience and education. I want to share with you, exactly how we do this day in and day out on our farm.

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