Cattle and the ecosystem — There has been much debate in the past few years about cattle and the environment. When it comes to topics like Climate Change, one proposed solution is for the population to move toward more of a plant-based diet. What many people may not realize is that cattle grazing is actually critical for a healthy ecosystem.
“From an environmental standpoint, cattle play an irreplaceable role in maintaining top soil, promoting biodiversity, protecting wildlife habitat, reducing the spread of wildfires, providing natural fertilizer and so much more.” (Amanda Radke, Beef Magazine)
“Plus, cattle utilize land that would otherwise remain unproductive for humans. By grazing this steep, hilly, rocky and rough land, cattle convert non-edible cellulosic material into nutritional beef. If sat unused, these grasslands would quickly turn to empty desert wastelands.”
(Source: Amanda Radke, Beef Magazine https://www.beefmagazine.com/beef/cattle-grazing-critical-healthy-ecosystem)
Responsible beef production practices contribute to healthy soil and grasslands.
Sustainability on the farm is of the utmost importance to farmers. After all, our farm is also our livelihood. Some of the things we do on our farm to promote sustainability are:
Keeping Cattle Out of Water Courses – Another step we take with regard to sustainability is to keep our water systems clean by keeping our cattle away from the streams on our farm. They have access to clean drinking water from our barns and ponds, but the streams remain protected from damage from cattle.
Windbreaks – We have planted windbreaks that help provide shelter for our cattle and also to control wind erosion. Because we live on an island that has less than 1 ft of soil over bedrock on 90% of the island, soil is important for growing pasture and crops, and we cannot afford to lose any to soil erosion.
My husband always says that our soils are some of the most important building blocks for our cattle. Some parts of our farm have less than 1 foot of topsoil before bedrock, so soil is very important to us. We do not want to waste our soil through wind erosion, water erosion, and we want to keep it where it is where it can grow long term soil structure for us. When wind or water erosion take place, that is the most valuable soil we are losing.
The McNaughton Farm has been a no-till farm since 1994. John and his father implemented creek bed rehabilitation and stabilization of erosion zones, and planted trees for windbreaks, erosion control, and stream bank stabilization. There is a fish sanctuary on our property. John has employed strategic fencing practices to minimize disruption to natural lands and to keep livestock out of critical waterways.
Our family wants to encourage others to rethink Canadian beef environmentally. In terms of environmental sustainability, at 0.04%, Canadians should be proud that beef production in this country has one of the lowest greenhouse gas footprints in the world.
Canadians need to rethink Canadian beef environmentally. Check out this informational PDF for more information.
“Canadian beef farmers and ranchers work with conservation groups like Cows and Fish to safeguard streams and creeks. Beef farmers work with conservation experts to develop and invest in Environmental Farm Plans to keep water safe. Latest research verifies conservation efforts have led to a 20% decrease in the amount of ground & surface water used to produce beef in 2011 compared to 1981.” (Source: Canadian Beef)
Essentially, our cattle graze on grass in our fields where we cannot grow high value crops for human consumption successfully (for example: vegetable crops, legumes, etc). We are actively farming land that is not swamp, bush/forest, or bedrock. Some of the land is shallow and most of that land stays in forage or pasture production for the cattle.
Pasture systems are vital to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitat. This is a key part of preserving Ontario’s biodiversity. For example, the Bobolink (threatened, not endangered) nests in grasses, which is why we are encouraged to delay hay cutting in some of our fields. They are safer in pasture systems, which is where our cattle graze. We also have ducks, Sandhill Cranes, and other bird species that may not be endangered, but take advantage of grasslands. If we do not actively manage our grasslands here, those species would be at risk of losing habitat.
In summary, grazing cattle are an integral part of the grassland ecosystem and play an important role in nutrient recycling. When it comes to cattle and the ecosystem, there are many positive points of having cattle on grassland. Pasture lands are very important stores of carbon and provide habitat to many at risk species. Some pasture lands also assist in preservation of wetlands which otherwise may be subject to cultivation. We have significant portions of our land that are in the form of swamps, streams, ponds and seasonal wetlands.
For us, our cattle play an important role in maintaining top soil, promoting biodiversity, protecting wildlife habitat, providing natural fertilizer, and using land that would otherwise remain unproductive for human beings. These are just some of the reasons cattle and the ecosystem go together well.