The Grass Gets Greener for Cows and Jaguars
May 4, 2011
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.”