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Can Collaborative Adaptive Management Improve Cattle Production in Multipaddock Grazing Systems?

Justin D. Derner, David J. Augustine, David D. Briske, Hailey Wilmer, Lauren M. Porensky, María E. Fernández-Giménez, Dannele E. Peck, John P. Ritten, the CARM Stakeholder Group
Rangeland ecology & management 2021 v.75 pp. 1-8
adaptive management, average daily gain, cattle production, costs and returns, drought, farm income, grazing management, grazing systems, growing season, pastures, rain, rangelands, rotational grazing, semiarid zones, shortgrass prairies, steers, steppes, stocking rate, summer
Collaborative adaptive management (CAM) is hypothesized to benefit management of rangeland ecosystems, but the presumed benefits have seldom been quantified, and never in a multipaddock rotational grazing system. Here, we evaluated average daily weight gain (ADG) of livestock (kg steer⁻¹ d⁻¹) in four grazing management treatments during the summers of 2016−2018 in a semiarid shortgrass steppe. These four treatments had the same stocking rate but differed in stocking densities. The three lowest stocking densities were implemented using nonadaptive grazing management, while the highest stocking density was implemented using CAM by an 11-member Stakeholder Group. Three of the four treatments used multipaddock rotational grazing. Growing season precipitation varied from drought in 2016 to near average in 2017 and dry in 2018. During nondrought years, ADG under nonadaptive grazing declined linearly as stocking density increased from low to high. This relationship was not significant during drought (2016). CAM increased absolute livestock production by 0.13 to 0.19 kg steer⁻¹ d⁻¹ in nondrought years, or a 23−25% relative increase in ADG. This benefit of CAM arose from the Stakeholder Group's ability to rotate cattle in response to spatiotemporal heterogeneity across the landscape—i.e., the ability to graze the “right pastures at the right time.” Multiplying the additional grazing season livestock gains achieved through CAM by the monetary value of gains ($ kg⁻¹) resulted in an estimated additional gross revenue return from CAM of $48.16 to $55.54 per steer annually, as compared with revenues from nonadaptive multipaddock rotational grazing under nondrought conditions. These results indicate that CAM, supported with substantial and timely monitoring data, can minimize decreases in livestock production associated with high stocking densities used in multipaddock rotation systems. However, in this experimental context, the economic benefits of increased livestock production associated with CAM were likely insufficient to offset the substantial cost of this approach.