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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 .