Luhman: The Inherent Value of Livestock Integration Into a Crop Farm

One of the most undervalued tools in a farmers toolbox is integrating livestock on the land.

Cover crops and perennial grasses make it possible to harvest sunlight, cover our soil, feed biology, and sequester carbon for an additional 2-4 months before and after a cash crop. But it is livestock that allows us to harvest profit from those plants in the form of meat, eggs and milk. Livestock will return the majority (about 80 percent) of the nutrients from the forage to the soil in the form of manure. When forage is taken as hay and fed in another location much of the nutrient is lost – even if the manure is returned to the field.

There are options to reduce or even eliminate the burden of livestock. One example is to buy or custom raise a seasonal class of livestock like stockers. Or perhaps custom graze a group of heifers or cows from another operator for a few weeks or months. If you don’t want to manage livestock at all, you can work with a producer who has livestock. Cover crops with corn residue is a fantastic feed and valuable resource that allows the cattle producer to extend the grazing season and reduce winter feed costs. Talk to local livestock producers about working together or explore the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture’s Cropland Grazing Exchange, a map tool designed to match farmers with extra pasture or corn residue to farmers with livestock who are looking for that resource.

While we can make advances in regenerative agriculture without them, I have found that livestock can rapidly increase the rate at which positive change can happen, not to mention add substantial profit to your bottom line! If you’re considering expanding or adding the use of livestock on your farm, and don’t know what kind of infrastructure you need, check out one of our four ‘Dirt Rich’ fencing workshops. For any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out at or 507-271-5968.