In Brazil, as well as globally, land use has been increasingly addressed for environmental impacts and economic improvements. Integrated crop–livestock systems (ICLSs) are a potential strategy to optimize use of land, increase total production and reduce economic risk through diversification. We compared production and economic outcomes of a soybean-only system with ICLS differing in sward management. The study area was managed since 2001 using no-till in southern Brazil. Soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] was rotated with a mixture of black oat (Avena strigosa Schreb) and ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum Lam) either for: (i) grazing (ICLS) or (ii) cover crops as cropping system only (CS) with no livestock grazing. Four sward height management methods (10, 20, 30 or 40 cm) were evaluated under put-and-take stocking. Across years, soybean yield (2516±103 kg ha−1) was not affected by treatment, but was affected by year (P<0.001), due to rainfall during crop development. Cattle average daily gain, gain per hectare (GPH) and gross margin were affected by treatments (P<0.001). Average daily gain was lower when pasture was managed at 10 cm than between 20 and 40 cm. With increasing sward height, a gradual reduction in cattle GPH was observed (P<0.05). Overall gross margin was lower in CS than in ICLS. Economic return with ICLS was greatest when sward height management was between 10 and 20 cm. Our study indicates that ICLS could be considered an alternative management strategy that improves economic performance and promotes balanced production in the long term.