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INVITED REVIEW: Getting more information from your grazing research beyond cattle performance

Stacey A. Gunter, N. Andy Cole
Professional Animal Scientist 2016 v.32 no.1 pp. 31-41
animal performance, carbon sequestration, cattle, climate change, dry matter intake, environmental impact, fuel production, grazing, grazing management, infiltration (hydrology), landscapes, methane, models, nutrient management, prediction, production technology, runoff, sward, wildlife habitats
Research examining the nutrition of grazing ruminants can be a rewarding career; however, this type of science possesses great challenges. Grazing research requires the scientist to make many assumptions, deal with great variability across a landscape, and carefully plan and manage unknown effects and finally produce a published experiment that has applications across an extensive region. Probably the most rewarding aspect to researchers in this field is the ability to collaborate with researchers from other disciplines to evaluate the entire system. The knowledge that can be gained from studying a grazing system with collaborating scientists is valuable beyond a quantifiable number. Animal performance is a function of the soil– plant–animal–climate interaction with one factor affecting the other. One area of research that has been demonstrated in recent years has been that plant structure and mass will effect instantaneous intake rate and possibly total DMI. Struggles to predict DMI by grazing livestock have not been gifted with high predictive quality; the low prediction quality has probably resulted from minimal characterization of the sward and its integration in predictive models. Furthermore, grazing management affects the other ecological services provided by a landscape. Ecological services are often thought of as just wildlife habitat, but these services also include carbon sequestration, water infiltration and runoff, nutrient management, and food and fuel production for a growing world population. We know that ruminants are significant emitters of methane, and with the current level of interest in climate change, research examining the effects of grazing management on ecological services can possibly be as valuable to producers as animal performance data alone. The only way producers will adapt sustainable grazing systems is if these systems are as profitable as other opportunities for the same land resource. In the future, producers will need data showing the effects of their production systems on other ecological services. Visionary teams of agricultural scientists need to collect these ecological impact data in the present, because the public will be unwilling to wait decades for them to be collected in the future.