Explore options for promoting nutrient cycling in your grazing lands.
Supplementing cattle feed with forages is an important part of any Florida cattle operation, but ranchers could be shortchanging their operation by not paying enough attention to nutrient cycling, according to an article from UF/IFAS’s South Florida Beef-Forage Program. Explore the topic of nutrient cycling and a beef operation’s options for promoting nutrient cycling to improve forages and the operation.
What Nutrient Cycling Is
Nutrient cycling is the cycle by which nutrients go from the ground into plants that grow from the ground, and then make their way back to the ground. There are many ways this can happen outside of adding fertilizer to the soil. Nutrient cycling options include:
- Nutrient cycling via plant litter. According to the article, “Plant litter is an important source of nutrients in forage systems. Because of lodging, and trampling of aerial plant parts, litter decomposition is a fundamental process influencing nutrient cycling in pastures. Accumulation of plant litter may also affect plant composition and persistence.In well-managed grazing situations, the proportion of the leaf tissues escaping the intake by animals is approximately 30% of the leaf tissue produced.” However, tropical grasses can be hard to decompose due to the grass’low tissue nitrogen concentration, and the decomposing grass can actually “compete” for the soil’s Called nutrient immobilization, the article maintains “it is often associated with pasture decline.” A low nitrogen availability can lead to “nutrient deficiency and subsequent decrease in forage production, nutritive value, and pasture persistence.”
- Nutrient cycling via excreta. In this process, the nitrogen goes through the animal via forage and exits back to the soil as waste. According to the article, “70% to 90% of the nutrients enter the pasture via excreta deposition; however, nutrient return through excreta is not uniform. Cattle tend to congregate in small areas of the pasture, usually near shade, watering, and resting sites. In addition, topography and other site conditions can exert differential effects on grazing and excretion behavior, leading to zonal heterogeneity in nutrient distribution.”
- Use of warm-season legumes to improve litter quality. Since warm forage grasses produce litter that is of low quality, planting warm-season legumes can help. According to the article, warm season legumes “minimize the negative effects of nutrient deficiency” and “improve litter quality and, subsequently, promote more efficient nutrient cycling in pastures.” The article explains that “Mixed grass-legume pastures represent a feasible alternative to improve litter quality. Nitrogen-fixing legumes can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere that can later be utilized by the grass.”
Why the Nutrient Cycle is Important
It’s paramount that the soil have enough nutrients to give to forage so cattle can benefit when they graze. The better the nutritive value of the forage, the more benefits for your cattle. However, as noted in each of the above scenarios, there are drawbacks that can lead to poor nutrient cycling and poor forage for your cattle if just one option is relied on. The article suggest cattle operators try the following to promote nutrient cycling:
- Soil testing and fertilizing
- Rotational stocking
- Grazing intensity
- Strategic fertilization
- Overseeding warm-season legumes
Griffin Fertilizer is committed to helping both growers and ranchers make sound agronomic and economic decisions in order to maximize the health of their grove and pasture. As a full-service custom dry & liquid fertilizer blender and crop protection product distributor, we will continue our mission to further advance Florida agriculture. For questions or concerns about your farm or pasture, contact us and one of our team will be in touch.