August 26, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.

Cattle as part of the environmental solution

Grandin discusses future of optimal grazing

By DANIELLE NAUMAN | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
Staff Writer

Danielle Nauman/Dairy Star
Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, speaks at the Golden Sands Resource Conservation and Development Council Inc. Grazing Event Aug. 12 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Grandin said that grazing ruminants is beneficial to the environment.


STEVENS POINT, Wis. — In a world full of concern for climate change, cattle are often blamed for the desecration of the environment. According to Colorado State University Professor of Animal Science Temple Grandin, that simply is not the case.
Grandin spoke at the Golden Sands Resource Conservation and Development Council Inc. 2023 Grazing Event Aug. 12 in Stevens Point.
“I have been in this industry for 50 years; everyone is bashing cattle, saying they are wrecking the environment, that they are something to get rid of,” Grandin said. “I got to thinking, ‘Have I worked 50 years on something that should be gotten rid of?’ That’s kind of a sobering thing to think about. Grazing animals can be part of the solution.”
Grandin said 20% of land, globally, is only suitable for grazing.
“In Colorado, there is a 200-mile stretch of plains that can only be grazed; there is not enough water in the ground and not enough water coming from the sky — it’s that simple,” Grandin said. “The same goes for Nebraska, the foothills of Kansas and all these places. If you don’t graze these lands, the woody shrubs will take over. I’ve spent 10 years living in Arizona. I’ve seen juniper take over, 10-foot high thickets of juniper. Let me tell you, you get a fire in that, it’s going to be the fire to end all fires.”
Cattle are blamed for climate change because of methane produced by their digestive processes, Grandin said. Grandin said leaking oil fields are responsible for a comparable amount of methane being released into the atmosphere.
“When the great herds of bison roamed North America, before Europeans came to North America, they were putting out 86% the same amount of methane as cattle put out now,” Grandin said. “Plus, there were a lot of deer and elk; they put it out also.”
Grazing was not always an idea that she championed, Grandin said, but a conference she attended several years ago helped change her mindset.
“People forget (that) a lot of the best cropland in Iowa and Illinois was created by herds of bison out on the plains,” Grandin said. “The grazing animal created some of our best cropland.”
With her interest piqued, Grandin began to compile and analyze information about research and studies that had been focused on rotational and cover-crop grazing.
“Applying these principles, it takes three to five years to see the soil health benefits of grazing,” Grandin said. “It improves the biodiversity. It improves the land if you use the animals correctly. I am a big fan of cover-crop grazing. Killing cover crops with Roundup is not the thing to do. We need to be getting the crops and the livestock back together again. There started to be some interest in that when the price of artificial fertilizer went up.”
Grazing is not without its challenges, Grandin said, from fencing to processing and to the type of animals selected.
“A lot of the cattle genetics we have now were bred to fatten on grain,” Grandin said. “The more old-fashioned genetics were bred to fatten on grass. The other thing I am concerned about is that we are breeding so much for meat that the animals have problems. Leg conformation is horrible. We are repeating the same mistakes, breeding for rapid gain, gigantic loin and big back fat.”
Grandin expressed similar concerns with dairy cattle breeding.
“(Poor leg conformation) is starting to show up in dairy cattle, and they say we have to build a better heifer barn, (but) I say, don’t breed that kind of feet,” Grandin said. “This is a problem that creeps up slowly, what I call bad becoming normal.”
The tendency for the industry to chase extremes concerns Grandin, and she advises a more moderate approach.
“We need to be looking at what is optimal, not maximum,” Grandin said.
Grandin referenced a recent article she read about a study being conducted at the University of Minnesota.
“They have a herd of 1960s dairy genetics, and guess what — they don’t get mastitis as easily,” Grandin said. “This is where this trade-off is. Looking at genetic selection, it is truly a trade-off if you breed for a single trait. These problems creep up slowly, and people don’t see it.”
Grandin said that the temperament of animals factors into grazing success. She explained there are seven basic emotional systems in animals: fear, aggression, separation stress, seek-explore, sex drive, mother-young nurturing and play.
As cattle have been selected for temperament, some of these emotional systems have been altered from their natural state and make the animals more docile and less likely to thrive in a grazing system.
What does Grandin consider an optimal system?
“When you are doing good for the land and making a living off of it, that is optimal,” Grandin said. “Optimal is when everything is working together; when we go for the maximum, that is when we get into trouble.”
While Grandin sees grazing as playing a large role in the future of livestock husbandry, she said it may be slow to take root due to many producers having a lack of exposure to the system.
“People cannot get interested in the things they do not know about,” Grandin said. “We need to start exposing our students to different ideas, different systems, different ways to do things, in order to continue to make improvements on the way we do things.”


You must login to comment.

Top Stories

Today's Edition



27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

sep 27, 2023 @ 12:00pm
sep 27, 2023 @ 12:00pm