To graze or not to graze?

July-2013-Food-For-Thought

MELISSA GREEN Thought for the day: Livestock grazing converts plants that we cannot eat into a nutrient-dense food source.
MELISSA GREEN
Thought for the day:
Livestock grazing converts plants that we cannot eat into a nutrient-dense food source.

I love to watch the circle of life and changing of the seasons. Rolling hills, high stretching oak trees, colorful wildflowers, and a variety of wildlife are all present on my parent’s ranch. We also have cattle and sheep that graze on our land.

There are many who believe livestock grazing destroys land, kills off plants and chases away wildlife. I will let you in on a little secret, this is not true. For starters, there are a variety of wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, that have been living on the same land as livestock for generations. Fish, mammals and birds can all benefit from cattle, sheep and goats. In fact, the Nature Conservancy found that grazing helped maintain native plant and animal diversity in California wetlands.

Now, livestock grazing does not just benefit wildlife. It also promotes the growth of beneficial plants. It helps prevent exotic weeds from choking out native vegetation. It protects against soil erosion. Grazing of cattle, sheep and goats is also vital in controlling weeds and minimizing fire risk. For example, cities in Colorado use goats and sheep to control weed growth on prairies and ranges. The weeds in these areas also serve as good source of nutrition for the animals. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Let us look closer to home. The Walnut Creek City Council discontinued cattle grazing around the city in 2010. Since then, homeowners have been petitioning for the re-instatement of grazing. Residents are concerned about the fire risk and want the cattle back to control the weeds around their homes. Hopefully Walnut Creek residents can present similar benefits to their City Council to bring back livestock grazing.

Another concern is that livestock grazing reduces water quality. Ready for some fun facts? UC Davis just finished a study that examined water from areas used for recreation and areas used for grazing. Researchers examined many different water components. Ultimately, they determined that water from grazing land and from recreational land had the same quality. Good news!

Last, but not least, livestock graze on land unsuitable for producing crops, like steep hills. This more than doubles the amount of land that can be used to produce food. Next time you are driving down the road and you see livestock grazing I hope it brings a smile to your face. They, too, are working hard to help preserve our environment!

 

 

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Raised on a ranch in Arbuckle overlooking the Sutter Buttes, Melissa Green holds a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from CSU Chico; she also holds a master’s degree in Meat Science from Colorado State University. Green currently works in Northern California conducting research and development for new meat products. Her passion for educating consumers on the topic of “where our food comes from” enables Green her to pursue a mission in preserving our agricultural heritage.