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Posts Tagged: beef cattle

Beef cattle grazing more help than harm for endangered plants and animals

Livestock grazing to enhance habitat for endangered butterflies in Santa Clara County.

Well-managed grazing can control non-native plants and maintain habitat and ecosystems to support a variety of species

Research recently published in the journal Sustainability documents a role for livestock grazing to support the conservation of imperiled plant and animal species in California. 

Livestock grazing occurs in every county except San Francisco and is the single greatest land use in California. Grazing livestock, primarily beef cattle, often share lands with threatened and endangered species. California has more federally listed threatened and endangered species (287 plants and animals) than any other state in the continental US. While this is a result of our state's varied climate, soils and topography, the threat to diversity is predominantly from habitat loss due to land use change. Housing and urban development, solar and wind farms, cultivated agriculture, and public works projects such as reservoirs, roads and high-speed rail all result in habitat loss for some native species, many of which are threatened or endangered. Alternatively, maintaining ranching, or managed grazing for beef cattle production, can support the conservation of many threatened and endangered species in California. 

A review of United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listing documents for threatened and endangered species in California provided an opportunity to understand the relationship between livestock grazing and species conservation. Based on USFWS documents, 51%, or 143, of the federally listed animal and plant species are found in habitats with grazing. Livestock grazing is a stated threat to 73% (104) of the species sharing habitat with livestock, but 59% (85) of the species are said to be positively influenced, with considerable overlap between species both threatened and benefitting from grazing. The fact that USFWS identifies grazing as both a threat and a benefit to many species indicates that how grazing is done matters. 

Number of federally listed species with threats or benefits from grazing in most recent listing documents, including all federally listed species in California occurring with livestock grazing or in habitats grazed by livestock (n= 143 species).

While species may be negatively impacted by grazing that is excessive or unmanaged, managed grazing can control vegetation and maintain habitat structure and ecosystem function to support a variety of species. Controlling non-native species, mostly non-native annual plants, is the most frequent reason that grazing benefits both federally listed flowering plant and animal species in California. In fact, 89% of species positively impacted by livestock grazing benefit from control of non-native species. For example, controlling non-native annual grasses favors native forb or broad-leaf plant populations that support the conservation of 10 different butterfly species and one moth species which rely on forbs for nectar and larvae food. 


For the larger native animals like the San Joaquin kit fox, taller, dense vegetation can obscure the visibility of predators. Photo by Tim Ludwick USFWS

In addition to controlling non-native plants, grazing benefits some listed species by controlling vegetation, including thatch or dead plants that alter habitat. In the grasslands and shrublands of the San Joaquin Valley, maintaining habitat with sparse vegetation supports a variety of listed species, including the Kern mallow plant (Eremalche parryi ssp. Kernesis), the blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia silus), the giant kangaroo rat (Diposdomys ingens), and the San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis). For the small ground-dwelling animals, annual grass and thatch can create an impenetrable thicket. For the larger native animals like the San Joaquin kit fox, taller, dense vegetation can obscure the visibility of predators. Habitat with sparse vegetation is also necessary for listed plant and animal species in coastal grasslands, including the Santa Cruz tarplant (Holocarpha macradenia) and Ohlone tiger beetle (Cicindela ohlone). 

In the grasslands and shrublands of the San Joaquin Valley, maintaining habitat with sparse vegetation supports a variety of listed species, including the giant kangaroo rat. Photo courtesy of USDA

Some species (plants, insects and a reptile) benefit from grazing that controls vegetation associated with air pollution. The USFWS cites research that shows air pollution, specifically dry atmospheric nitrogen deposition, creates a fertilizer load that alters plant communities and habitat, and livestock grazing can restore or maintain habitat by removing excess vegetation and nitrogen. The control of vegetation through grazing is also associated with maintaining grasslands by preventing succession or invasion by brush to benefit some animal and plant species. For listed plants like the Western Lily (Lilium occidentale) that are threatened by loss of grassland, the USFWS has stated that the benefits of grazing seem to outweigh the potential threat to these plants being grazed or trampled.

Within aquatic habitats, species benefitting from grazing, which includes flowering plants, amphibians and invertebrates, are primarily found in temporary or vernal pools, where livestock help maintain an adequate inundation period. Listing documents for species in temporary pools cite research that describes increased grass cover in and around ungrazed vernal pools leading to increased evapotranspiration and decreased pond duration. Other benefits stated for listed species in aquatic habitats include two animal species that benefit from the presence and maintenance of stock ponds associated with livestock grazing.  

This review of the USFWS listings documents concludes that many federally listed species in California are conservation reliant, requiring continued interventions to support their lifecycle or maintenance of habitat, and that sharing land with livestock grazing is an important conservation strategy. Species benefiting from grazing are often threatened by the loss or cessation for grazing. Most, if not all, ecosystems on the planet have been altered by land use and other anthropogenic effects. Threats to biodiversity stemming from pervasive non-native species, climate change, and the disruption of essential ecosystem processes and disturbance regimes are not typically overcome simply by preserving land, improving regulatory protections, and removing threats. Livestock grazing is perhaps the only ongoing land use that can be feasibly manipulated to manage vegetation and habitats at the landscape scale. 

To read the journal article “Rangeland Land-Sharing, Livestock Grazing's Role in the Conservation of Imperiled Species,” visit

To learn more about livestock grazing and beef cattle production in California, see the "Understanding Working Rangelands" fact sheet series:


Posted on Wednesday, May 19, 2021 at 1:17 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Natural Resources

Curing pneumonia in cattle

Bovine respiratory disease - pneumonia in cattle - is the most significant health problem for the beef industry. The disease annually results in the death of more than 1 million animals. In addition to these losses, beef producers spend a significant sum on disease-related medication and labor costs each year.

According to, raising cattle for specific resistance to BRD was a hot topic at the Beef Improvement Federation Conference earlier this month in Bozeman, Mont. Attendees learned about research under way at UC Davis to find the genetic component to BRD resistance and, eventually, breed out this deadly disease.

This spring, UC Davis announced that USDA awarded the university $2.6 million to carry out research aimed at reducing the incidence of bovine respiratory disease. The goal of the newly funded research project is to integrate research, education and extension activities to improve diagnostics and develop cost-effective genomic and management approaches that reduce the incidence of the BRD in beef and dairy cattle.

The extension component of the project is headed by Alison Van Eenennaam, Cooperative Extension specialist in animal genomics and biotechnology in the UC Davis Department of Animal Science. Van Eenennaam made a presentation at the Bozeman conference about the weight cattle producers should be give to BRD resistance when making selection decisions.

Twenty-nine percent of beef cattle deaths are associated with bovine respiratory disease.
Twenty-nine percent of beef cattle deaths are associated with bovine respiratory disease.

Posted on Friday, June 24, 2011 at 9:38 AM
Tags: Alison Van Eenennaam (0), beef (0), cattle (0)

Beef business writer blasts new food movement

A commentary that appeared on the Web site, an information source for beef industry insiders, said the dialog at the Farm, Food & Health Conference held March 2 and 3 in Kansas City was "unbalanced and unrealistic."

"Much of the conversation at the . . . conference," Drovers editor Greg Henderson wrote, "centered around the idea that a 'movement' is taking shape in America to change our food system."

In the article, Henderson quoted conference speaker Larry Yee, director emeritus of UC Cooperative Extension in Ventura County and co-founder of the Association of Family Farms.

"Our current system is fundamentally unsustainable," Yee told attendees. "I believe the antidote is a 21st Century recreation of the food system."

Yee said there are deep flaws in the global economic paradigm and criticized modern industrial agriculture as a system that has been developed only to seek efficiency and profits. He said the current system is designed to produce cheap and abundant food and calories.

These examples were presented by Henderson as evidence of the "tone" of the conference, which he said inferred that local, natural and organic foods are "good," and that food produced with the assistance of modern technology - such as antibiotics, hormones, fertilizers and pesticides - are "bad."

"The first Farm, Food & Health Conference produced an unflattering and unbalanced view of American agriculture - and provided unrealistic expectations for a 21st Century food system," Henderson wrote.

Posted on Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 10:26 AM
Tags: beef (0), cattle (0), farm (0), food (0), health (0), sustainability (0)

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