The Grass Gets Greener for Cows and Jaguars

May 4, 2011

A WCS study finds when Brazilian ranchers rotate crops in the Pantanal and Cerrado, they get bigger cows, bigger profits, and better ecosystems for wildlife.

For the cows of Brazil, the pasturelands of the Pantanal and Cerrado must seem an endless buffet of roughage-rich goodness. But wildlife like jaguars, giant anteaters, peccaries, and birds need these bountiful landscapes, too.

For many large ranches in Brazil, unfortunately, feeding their cattle means flattening forests and replacing native grasses with exotic species. The result is lands that are more vulnerable to drought and erosion and provide less habitat for wildlife. A recent WCS study, however, proposes a strategy for sharing. Rotating the areas where cattle graze, the research suggests, helps ranchers to conserve the region’s natural pasturelands and to fatten their cows, too.

Rotational grazing is a technique being adopted worldwide. By moving the cows off the lands more quickly, ranchers allow the grasses to replenish themselves in time for their cows to take another helping. Doing so, the study found, resulted in heartier grasslands and heftier cattle.

“The results of this study show a potential win-win situation for the Pantanal and Cerrado’s ranches and wildlife,” said WCS’s Donald Parsons, the study’s lead author. “Using rotational grazing techniques will produce healthier cattle for ranchers and help safeguard wildlife that call home to this incredibly biodiverse region.”

Cows that grazed in rotated pastures were 15 percent heavier than those that did not. And these cows weren’t only beefier, but also more plentiful. Pregnancy rates for the herds were 22 percent higher than for conventional grazers. More cows mean fewer reasons for ranchers to transform and replant the landscape.

“The timing of this study couldn’t have been much better,” said Mariana Varese, acting director for WCS’s Latin America and Caribbean program. “We look forward to working with Brazil’s ranching community to apply the results of this study for the benefit of wildlife and ranchers.”

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