Involuntary soil intake by cows on pasture can be a potential route of entry for pollutants into the food chain. Therefore, it appears necessary to know and quantify factors affecting soil intake in order to ensure the food safety in outside rearing systems. Thus, soil intake was determined in two Latin square trials with 24 and 12 lactating dairy cows. In Trial 1, the effect of pasture allowance (20 v. 35 kg dry matter (DM) above ground level/cow daily) was studied for two sward types (pure perennial ryegrass v. mixed perennial ryegrass–white clover) in spring. In Trial 2, the effect of pasture allowance (40 v. 65 kg DM above ground level/cow daily) was studied at two supplementation levels (0 or 8 kg DM of a maize silage-based supplement) in autumn. Soil intake was determined by the method based on acid-insoluble ash used as an internal marker. The daily dry soil intake ranged, between treatments, from 0.17 to 0.83 kg per cow in Trial 1 and from 0.15 to 0.85 kg per cow in Trial 2, reaching up to 1.3 kg during some periods. In both trials, soil intake increased with decreasing pasture allowance, by 0.46 and 0.15 kg in Trials 1 and 2, respectively. In Trial 1, this pasture allowance effect was greater on mixed swards than on pure ryegrass swards (0.66 v. 0.26 kg reduction of daily soil intake between medium and low pasture allowance, respectively). In Trial 2, the pasture allowance effect was similar at both supplementation levels. In Trial 2, supplemented cows ate much less soil than unsupplemented cows (0.20 v. 0.75 kg/day, respectively). Differences in soil intake between trials and treatments can be related to grazing conditions, particularly pre-grazing and post-grazing sward height, determining at least in part the time spent grazing close to the ground. A post-grazing sward height lower than 50 mm can be considered as a critical threshold. Finally, a dietary supplement and a low grazing pressure, that is, high pasture allowance increasing post-grazing sward height, would efficiently limit the risk for high level of soil intake, especially when grazing conditions are difficult. Pre-grazing and post-grazing sward heights, as well as faecal crude ash concentration appear to be simple and practical tools for evaluating the risk for critical soil intake in grazing dairy cows.