Abstract Investigations of the transfer to man of artificially-produced radionuclides through food chains have shown that the inadvertent consumption of soil by grazing animals can give variations in estimates of transfer coefficients, especially for radionuclides that are poorly absorbed by plant roots. Even small masses of soil adhering to herbage or directly ingested can make a significant contribution to the intake inventory in terms of activity. Although the activity concentrations of soil-contaminated herbage are elevated, the radionuclides associated with the soil may not necessarily be in a form which is easily absorbed by the animal. Attempts must be made, therefore, to quantify soil intake and the subsequent radionuclide uptake by this mechanism. A field investigation of the uptake of radionuclides by farm animals grazing near the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant has been pursued. The aims of the study were to estimate the transfer to muscle and other tissues. This paper describes the methods used to estimate both the soil intake and the consequent availability of radionuclides associated with the soil. The measurements were used to evaluate the contribution to tissue content of inadvertent consumption of soil by cows and sheep.