April 3, 2017

Grazing Management Practices are Important, and Here's Why

Management practices my foot! That is the "PR" solution.. the whole answer of course is... EAT A VEGETABLE-BASED DIET and these issues go away.
That was in response to my comments on TreeHugger.com's In Defence of the Cow: How Eating  Meat Could Help Slow Climate Change.

I'm just going to start by saying that the owner of this comment was keen on letting everyone know how educated she was on ecology, soil biology, animal husbandry, etc., having written a 20,000-word dissertation on the subjects.

The problem I have with this particular comment is that it reveals that the one who claimed that everyone in agreement with TreeHugger's article had a "deep-seated ignorance of ecology" has exactly that. It's the Dunning-Kruger effect going on here.

Someone with an ounce of knowledge in ecology should and would know and understand that management is the central force around things like grazing and even growing vegetables.

You see, she was really scoffing at my arguments about the reasons why Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris, not to be confused with Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.)) is such a big problem in pastures in New Zealand where she lives, and how it can be managed:
Native grassland, and any form of grassland or modified grassland/pasture, requires rest for extended periods. Not "constant grazing", i.e., overgrazing as that is what leads to a lot of problems, such as the incidence and increase of weeds like [Ragwort]. 
The evidence of [ragwort] on so-called "rough" pastures means that very poor management practices of those pastures has been allowed to occur. These are very irresponsible practices that are completely avoidable and reversible, provided that proper management practices are put in place of the crap ones.
Now I don't think I'll ever find out why she scoffed at that, so I'm not going to dwell on it.

But since she obviously had her hat hung on the ragwort weed problem in New Zealand, and is obviously very anti-cattle and pro-vegan/vegetarian, then I think I can figure out why. It's possible too that she doesn't know as much about ecology as she thinks she does.

Management practices are a large reason why weeds are able to take over and infest a pasture or hayfield. Poor management practices that allow livestock to overgraze a pasture, allowing for thin stands and bare, exposed soil with a very thin layer of litter covering the soil surface. Ragwort seeds will establish very readily on such ground, and when they grow the grass grows up in with them. Cattle won't eat it because of the horrible taste, largely because of the toxic alkaloids.

When cattle won't eat it, they'll graze around it, letting more bare ground available for more of the seeds to spread. This plant doesn't spread its seeds very far, and that's an advantage for it especially when this plant's intent is to spread out and colonize as quickly as possible.

I do stand by the fact that it is possible to reverse the spread of weeds. For one, sheep and goats are great at controlling weeds where cattle (and even bison) will outright avoid them. Sheep and goats are more browsers and forb-eaters than they are grass grazers like cattle and bison, though grass still takes up a chunk of their diet. They are much more resistant to the toxic effects of the alkaloids in ragwort, but still need to eat a bit of grass along with it so that they don't get poisoned as well.

I also stand by that there are solutions to prevent the spread of ragwort. One solution is to manage pastures using multiple species, and not just one single species in a bit of a first-last grazing system depending on the nutrient requirements and the types of plants existing in a pasture. Another solution is to manage pastures far more carefully so that more litter is left behind and soil is completely covered by dead and live plant matter. When pastures are managed more intensively, desirable species increase and undesirables decrease because there is a better understanding of timing with how much time a group of animals spend grazing, and how long that plant stand needs to be rested.

So yes, management practices are legit. They are very much responsible for incidence of weeds and invasive species in grasslands and pastures, just as they're responsible for making good pastures better. And in no way is it merely a "PR solution"

Her whole-encompassing solution is, "eat a vegetable-based diet and these issues go away." No, the issues don't go away when more people encompass a plant-based or vegan diet. As a matter of fact they tend to become more exacerbated. Someone who says they know more than me about ecology and in the same breath issues that statement clearly doesn't understand how ecology can be devastated and destroyed when greater encouragement of practices that involve wreaking native plant communities for the favour of growing more food for more plant-based people are made public.

Clearly she is implying that she would favour much more crop production and tillage and destruction of grasslands than more grasslands and pastures, more grazing, and more livestock.

Can you say "hypocrite?"

I don't agree with people who think they know about ecology and land management yet don't when you get them to talk. I especially don't like it when they wave off pasture management as some kind of nonsensical PR campaign from the cattle industry and never bother to look more into it. If anyone is going to understand anything about ecology, it's integral with land management, and a huge key to better understand how to best manage the land for a healthy ecosystem.
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