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Posts Tagged: beef

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

Grass-fed beef production a possible money-maker for Central California ranchers

The health benefits of grass-fed beef are well documented. Meat from cattle that live out their lives grazing on rangeland before being processed has more beta-carotene, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids than the meat from animals finished at feed lots.

The health benefits – and for some consumers, the idea that cattle raised on the range have longer, happier lives than conventional beef cattle – increases the value of the product. Grass-fed beef generally sells for 60 percent more per pound than standard beef. These potential premium prices get cattle ranchers' interest, and therefore captured the attention of UC Cooperative Extension rangeland advisor for Mariposa and Merced counties Fadzayi Mashiri.

Ranchers pose with Rebecca Ozeran, UCCE livestock advisor in Fresno and Madera Counties (green blouse), and Fadzayi Mashiri, UCCE livestock advisor for Mariposa and Merced counties (red sweater.)

Two major challenges face ranchers who wish to produce grass-fed beef: the lack of local processing plants, and the unfamiliar marketing strategies that successfully selling a niche product demands.

“I decided to bring ranchers together to discuss these issues,” Mashiri said. She formed a group that meets regularly in Mariposa County to discuss how they might be able to work as a team to break into the grass-fed beef market. Mashiri sees this project as an opportunity for the ranchers to diversify their sources of income and increase profit margins.

“Farm to fork is getting big,” said Marshall Long, a Mariposa County supervisor and rancher who attended the meeting this fall. “I want to keep those value-added dollars in the county.

Most of the ranchers in the valley and foothill counties of Merced, Mariposa, Madera and Fresno have cow-calf operations. After calves are born on the range, they stay on the land for about a year before being sold at auctions and fed grain or other high-carbohydrate feeds in feedlots. In grass-fed production, yearlings aren't sold, but rather kept on the land for another two years before they are processed.

Cattle grazing in Mariposa County.

The meat can be quite different. Grass-fed cattle produce meat with a distinctive flavor, less marbling, and a yellow cast. And, it commands a higher price.

'Made in Mariposa' marketing brand.
Mashiri invited Tara Schiff, the grant coordinator with the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce, to the recent grass-fed beef planning meeting. Schiff spearheaded the development of a “Made in Mariposa” marketing brand. The initiative has more than 100 members, including local producers of vegetables, cider and wine.

“We have strength in numbers,” Schiff said.

Made in Mariposa is a potential marketing partner, or represents a model for local beef producers to emulate.

“If we think big, how big do we want to be?” Mashiri asked. “Can we work together to relieve individual producers of the pressure of selling on their own?”

The producers concluded that their next step would be a market study to determine whether stores and restaurants would be willing to pay for a ready supply of grass-fed beef. Schiff of Made in Mariposa and Mashiri will identify grant opportunities that would allow the group to move forward with the study.

Under Mashiri's leadership the ranchers will come together again in the spring to continue their planning work together to increase their businesses' bottom lines by diversifying into the production of a specialty meat product.

Ranchers confer after the Mariposa meeting.
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2016 at 9:46 AM

UC ANR clarifies drought misconceptions

Alfalfa is an important part of a lactating cow's diet.
In two recent broadcast media stories, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources experts were able to provide accurate information about the water use on commodities that have been criticized for water consumption during the drought.

The director of UC ANR's Agricultural Issues Center, Daniel Sumner, was one of three guests on the one-hour talk radio program Your Call, which was broadcast on KALW, Local Public Radio in San Francisco. The topic - How would reducing our intake of meat and dairy affect the drought? - was prompted by off-the-cuff comments made by Gov. Jerry Brown in June. Answering the question, "Is part of the drought strategy to reduce meat consumption?" Brown replied, "If you ask me, I think you should be eating veggie burgers."

On the Your Call show, Sumner explained that beef consumption has little impact on the California drought.

"I do want to make clear, when it comes to water embedded in any product, it depends where the water is from," Sumner said. "We feed cattle in California with grain from the Midwest."

Dairy production is another issue. "Dairy cows are fed lots of grain, soybeans and canola coming from Canada and the Midwest, but also silage and alfalfa, much of which is from California. California dairy is a drought water issue. Beef really isn't."

UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist Dan Putnam appeared on the KTVU Evening News to discuss alfalfa water use with reporter Ken Wayne. Putnam said the drought has hurt the state's alfalfa industry.

"Statewide, it's been fairly devastating," Putnam said. "We're at the lowest acreage we've seen probably since the 1930s."

He also noted the importance of the crop, a key part of dairy cattle's diets.

"An average field of alfalfa produces approximately 2,400 gallons of milk per acre," Putnam said. 

Posted on Thursday, July 16, 2015 at 11:42 AM
Tags: alfalfa (64), beef (7), dairy (30), Daniel Putnam (2), Daniel Sumner (34), drought (171)

The hills are green, but the grass is going to seed

Beef prices averaged $5.58 per pound as of February, up from $5.18 a year earlier and $5.03 two years ago, according to the USDA..
Rainfall in February and March have left California foothills emerald green, but ranchers say the growth is too late to be of any use, reported John Holland in the Modesto Bee.

Ranchers rely on unirrigated rangeland to feed cattle through the winter. This year, a lack of rain required ranchers to bring in supplemental feed and cull their herds early.

Theresa Becchetti, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Stanislaus County, said much of the grass growth on rangeland has slowed and is going to seed, though there are some grass species still growing that “can take advantage of the rain we have had," Holland reported.

Becchetti and other experts are collecting vegetation samples in the region, which could be used in requests for federal disaster aid.

A UC research station in Yuba County offers a glimpse of what could be found around much of the state, the story said. As of March 1, dry matter in grasses averaged 400 pounds per acre, compared with a historical average of 685 pounds and a high of 1,590 in rainy 1997.

Read more here:
Posted on Monday, April 7, 2014 at 2:05 PM
Tags: beef (7), rangeland (30), Theresa Becchetti (5)

The price of chicken feed is rising

The price of chicken will likely rise.
Soaring feed costs are forcing San Joaquin Valley poultry producers to cut costs, raise prices - and, in some cases, close their doors, reported Robert Rodriguez in the Fresno Bee this weekend. Feed prices have climbed as much as 50 percent since last year, fueled by the increasing demand for corn.

Director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center Daniel Sumner told the reporter that rising costs for poultry producers will boost the retail price, unless something else acts to keep prices down.

"So, bottom line," Sumner said, "we should see higher retail prices with these high grain and oilseed prices."

Ranchers beef over obstacles to local meat
Carlos Alcalá, Sacramento Bee

Small ranchers in El Dorado County gathered at a Local Meat Summit in Placerville last week to discuss obstacles to selling their products locally. Meat must be harvested at a USDA-approved facility, and there aren't many of those.

Program representative Sean Kriletich of UC Cooperative Extension in Amador and Calaveras counties is working with ranchers to solve the problem.

"We're trying to work toward getting a USDA-inspected facility for our region," Kriletich said.

If more small ranchers can find a way to sell grass-fed beef locally, it will do more than benefit the farmers, Kriletich said. It will preserve open space for the entire community.

"If people want to keep more land in agriculture, we have to get more money to the producers," said Kriletich, who said he used to run cattle himself, where El Dorado Hills subdivisions now sit.

Beekeepers asking Humboldt cities to loosen regulations on residential hives
Grant Scott-Goforth, The Willits News

A recent change in attitudes toward urban sustainability and education about bee culture spurred the Humboldt County Beekeepers Association to ask the cities of Arcata and Eureka to loosen restrictions on residential beekeeping.

UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Deborah Giraud said the risks of keeping bees in residential areas are minimal.

”In general, it's really important to have more honeybees,” Giraud said. “We have a lot of problems with pollination here because of weather. Most calls in here are about fruit trees. And it's a pollination problem.”

Posted on Monday, October 17, 2011 at 9:28 AM
Tags: beef (7), bees (98), Daniel Sumner (34), Deborah Giraud (3), honeybees (11), poultry (6), Sean Kriletich (2)

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