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Scientists Say Grazing Livestock Benefit from Plant Diversity

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief


Tags: grazing, cattle, livestock, pastures, chickens, pigs,

Hank Will and Mulefoot piglet.It seems like a no-brainer and revolutionary grassfarmer Joel Salatin has been saying it for decades … it’s official now though, diversity in the pasture matrix is good for grazing animals.

According to a fantastic article in the current issue of Rangelands, which is published by the Society for Range Management, as higher costs and environmental concerns about fossil fuels push more people to buy locally produced food, demand for livestock raised on pastures and rangelands—rather than in feed lots—is spurring a return to greater reliance on native rangelands and cultivated pastures.

Good Grazing

“By focusing on a few species, people transformed the diverse world of plants into a manageable domain that generally meets energy and protein needs and limits  intake of toxins,” writes Frederick D. Provenza and his coauthors in the article, “Value of Plant Diversity for Diet Mixing and Sequencing in Herbivores.”

Getting Down To Business

But this practice limits genetic plant diversity and health benefits to livestock from combinations of available plants nutrients, while threatening ecosystems reliant on biodiversity to avoid catastrophe. The researchers suggest a new alternative for livestock grazing that calls for having animals eat a variety of complementary plants. They suggest that these varied plants would provide a range of primary and secondary nutritional compounds, along with greater health and nutritional benefits. No surprise there, but good for the SRM researchers for taking a stand.

The article, “Value of Plant Diversity for Diet Mixing and Sequencing in Herbivores,” is available in its entirety, here.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

hank will_2
2/18/2010 8:30:32 AM

Hey Kent -- Thanks for sharing your opinion. You and I disagree -- I find the Highland cattle to be considerably more thrifty and profitable than my Angus herd ever was. And today, with commodity hog producers losing money on every animal they sell, looks like breeding for big rib-eye area is really paying off, eh? My pigs taste great and make me money. My poultry does the same thing. If you really want to learn about grazing, I suggest you read Andre Voisin's treatise on it. And then I suggest you adopt his practices and watch your profits soar. I'm not interested in any more courses in meat science or carcass analysis because I am growing meat for people to eat, not to fit in a packers box. And I save tons of additional money because I no longer need to ultrasound my calves to prove they'll fit. I do still use my Ph.D. every day though. The best thing it ever did for me was get me to question everything I ever learned -- including all 10 of the commandments in the religion of industrial agricultural production models. Those models work great for some people, but one size doesn't fit all. It seems like my ways have gotten under your skin, Kent. I apologize for that. I'll keep doing things my way and you can keep doing them your way. But I don't see why there's any need to be unpleasant about it. Hank


kent newby
2/18/2010 6:42:02 AM

Dear Mr. Will, I don't know where you get the idea that science was not first in the pasture. You make it sound like the idea is new. Agronomists who work in pasture management have been advocating this idea much longer than my sixty years. Oklahoma State University forage management faculty taught my grandfather this principle in 1910. Dr. Robert Reed helped it reenter my brain in 1968. From the looks of your cattle and hogs, you could use a few courses in livestock judging, meat science and a turn at the wheel of the Warner-Bratsler scheer to determine the real value of grassfed. It appears to me that MuleFoot hogs, whatever they are? would take a thousand head to make one loin eye over 4.50 sq. in. Scottish Highlanders are exactly good for one thing, which is keeping themselves or whoever wears their pelt in warm condition. A four year old kid would starve trying to stay alive eating meat from that breed. It appears the backyard chicken act must have carried over into your choices of cattle and hogs. They appear to be as meatless as a "Chicken". Eating the animals you show in the pics would certainly keep a person lean and looking for more, as it would take several of each to make a meal. Kent


paul gardener
3/10/2009 2:04:44 PM

Great news Hank. I'm glad to see any time when groups in "the know" come to logical conclusions that can benefit us all in the long term. I really respect Mr Salatin as well. Since reading about him in the Omnivores dillemma I'v picked up his book "everything I want to do is illegal" and am trying to work my way through it... slowly (You know me...Too many projects!) Good info Hank, Thanks Paul~ http://apaetoday.blogspot.com http://www.grit.com/blogs/blog.aspx?blogid=2340