Why it might be time to give cattle a break | CIAT Blog

A big man with an equally big smile, Noelí comes from a family of livestock tradition. Until 2007, like his parents, grandparents and neighbors, he let his cattle graze the wild grasses that sprout every year. But these pastures were not particularly nutritious or resilient when rain did not come. Productivity and profits were low.

Then everything changed.

Assets in their producer association, scientists at the Universidad del Cauca and CIAT asked Noelí if he would be willing to test silvopastoralism - a rotating grazing system that combines nutritious forage grasses, grasses, shrubs and trees.

In addition to the promise to increase productivity of both livestock and land, silvopastoral systems can also weathering droughts, helping to restore degraded soils, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with livestock husbandry.

Noelí did not think twice to accept.

To establish the system, divided their land into six plots. In a sow Brachiaria , a broad-leaved grass native to Africa that grows in mats at knee height. It is more nutritious and tolerant to drought than thin wild grasses. Its deep root system also helps to accumulate carbon in the soil, stabilizing it and protecting it from erosion.

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Easier to digest and more nutritious than wild grasses, cattle that feed on Brachiaria is more productive, which generates less emissions of methane per kilo of meat or liter of milk. Fortunately, the cows also like their taste.

In any case, the system is much more than just grass.

Now, this is the key: Noelí moves the cattle from plot to plot almost every five days, making a complete rotation throughout the farm every 30 days, more or less. For livestock it is like a nutritious dinner of six different dishes that lasts all the month, with Noelí, like the attentive head of dining.

The rest period allows the grazed plots to recover in a cycle that - with good management - can continue productively for 10-15 years.

The results somehow explain the great smile of Noelí: currently, his 20 cows graze on five hectares - more than five times the density of average load in Colombia. It gets almost twice the amount of milk from each cow, and its animals reach the slaughter weight in two years instead of five. Extra income has allowed you to send your child to college; hopes to become a veterinarian.

Noelí tells us that when there was a severe drought in Patía in 2012, many farmers lost livestock due to dehydration and starvation. Noelí cattle - fortified with a good diet based on heat-resilient grasses - survived.

In terms of climate intelligence, this is better.

  • Adam Floyd