Soil Science and Soil Health for Livestock and Poultry Production

This page is part of a series on environmental management topics developed for young or beginning farmer and ranchers. This series focuses on animal agriculture production and will also be useful to established producers as well as teachers and extension agents/educators.

Why is soil science and soil health important to animal agriculture?

Most livestock or poultry operations recycle manure on nearby land as a fertilizer. On grazing operations, this manure is deposited directly on growing plants by animals. For confined operations, manure is collected and stored until it can be land applied (spread) at an appropriate time. Understanding soil science is important for making the best decisions about manure application rate, location, and timing as well as grazing management.

Soil Science Basics

Soil Health

Soil Characteristics

Soil Sampling

Livestock and poultry farms sample soil to look at nutrient levels and use those in calculating the appropriate amount of manure and/or commercial fertilizer to apply to a field. This is an important step in a process called “nutrient management planning”. To find soil sampling recommendations and testing labs in your state, do a web search for “soil sampling” plus your state name. If you are unable to locate soil testing publications from your state, some recommended resources:

Related: Soil Testing

Knowledge and Tools For Management Decisions

Manure Impacts on Soil

Advanced Topics

Tile drainage and subsurface flow

Teacher/Educator Resources

Oregon State activity


This Building Environmental Leaders in Animal Agriculture project was funded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) under award #2009-49400-05871. This project is a joint effort between University of Nebraska, Montana State University, Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community and the National Young Farmers Educational Association (NYFEA). Meet the Beginning Farmer Project Team. For more information about this project or this web page, contact Jill Heemstra