Cattle Ranching and Deforestation

Cactus living fence. Photo: CoolCreativity.com.

Cactus living fence. Photo: CoolCreativity.com.

Cattle ranching, particularly in the tropics, and especially in Central and South America (the main focus of this page), is a major cause of deforestation. Large areas of pristine climax rain forest have been, and are being, destroyed. You may also be interested in visiting the page “Oil Palms and Deforestation”.

Some suggestions below for reducing deforestation and the potentially negative environmental impacts of cattle ranching:

It has been amply demonstrated that Allan Savory’s planned grazing/holistic management of livestock can actually improve the environment. In addition to this, my Animal Improved Dung Plus Seeds system of utilizing livestock can improve the environment and be used for reforestation – see the relevant pages on this site.

Reforesting cattle ranches

Growing fodder trees and using livestock that browse leaves as well as eat grass (such as Bali cattle, also known as Banteng, and Galloway cattle) means that higher densities of livestock can be maintained in a smaller area while maintaining production levels (eland, an African antelope, is another livestock option that both browse and graze). Increased productivity in a smaller area means less deforestation, and adding trees means the ranches are being reforested.

Bali cattle eat grass and the leaves of trees and shrubs. Timor Leste. Photo: Colin Trainor, commons.wikimedia.org.

Bali cattle eat grass as well as the leaves of trees and shrubs. Timor Leste. Photo: Colin Trainor, commons.wikimedia.org.

Rather than creating treeless grassland from rain forest, trees can be added to actually increase grass growth in some cases (e.g. rain trees Albizia saman/Samanea saman). These trees also drop edible bean pods, leaves and flower stamens. All this provides more fodder in less space, and therefore lessens the trend toward deforestation.

Cow eating Sesbania seed pods. Photo: esgpip.org.

Cow eating Sesbania seed pods in Ethiopia. Photo: esgpip.org.

More fodder available locally also reduces dependence on supplementary feed, such as soybeans and corn, which have to be transported, and of course deforestation has also occurred in order to grow the supplementary feed.

Bali cattle - the trees in the background have clearly been browsed as high as possible. Photo: Colin Trainor. Wikimedia.

Bali cattle – the trees in the background have clearly been browsed as high as possible by the cattle. Photo: Colin Trainor. Wikimedia.

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Cattle eating the foliage of Albizia chinensis. Photo: World Agroforestry.

Cattle eating the foliage of Albizia chinensis. Photo: World Agroforestry.

Adding trees (preferably indigenous) of course also means there is now forest in areas that were deforested, but with much less biodiversity than the original natural forest. Nevertheless, even a forest with low biodiversity still performs the functions of a forest, such as nutrient recycling from subsoil (tree roots generally grow deeper than grass roots), more transpiration and therefore more rainfall than just grasslands, temperature reduction and moderation, and so on.

A rain tree.

A rain tree. Photo: David Clode.

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Rain tree. Photo: ByOwnworkCCBY-SAS.O,https://commons

Rain tree in Thailand. Photo: ByOwnworkCCBY-SAS.O,https://commons

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Rain tree Seed pod. Tastes sweet and eaten and distributed by livestock and wildlife.

Rain tree Seed pod. These pods taste sweet and are high in carbohydrate and protein, and are readily eaten and distributed by livestock and wildlife. Photo: David Clode.

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Pollarded rain tree. photo: David Clode.

Pollarded rain tree. Branches can be cut for fooder, or timber, or to let more light through, and new branches grow back. Photo: David Clode.

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Rain tree wood. Photo: ByOwnworkCCBY-SAS.O, https://commons.

Rain tree wood. Photo: ByOwnworkCCBY-SAS.O, https://commons.

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Epiphytes growing on the branches of a rain tree. Photo: David Clode.

Epiphytes growing on the branches of a rain tree. Photo: David Clode.

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Coral tree, Erythrina indica

Coral tree, Erythrina indica. Photo: David Clode.

Some other trees (preferably indigenous, or if necessary naturalized, but not invasive weedy species) that could be used for shade and fodder, as well as nitrogen fixation:

Erythrina spp. Nitrogen-fixing, fodder, nectar for wildlife. Can be grown from stump cuttings (sc), see note below.

Sesbania spp. as above. Flowers of S. grandiflora can be eaten by humans.

Gliricidia sepium as above (sc)

Leucaena spp. as above

Enterolobium cyclocarpum as above

Parkia spp. as above

Albizia spp. as above

Faidherbia albida (drier tropics, African origin) as above

Prosopis cineraria, Prosopis spp. as above

Acacia spp. as above, but only a few species are suitable for fodder

Casuarina spp. – nitrogen-fixing and some species provide fodder.

Moringa oleifera – fodder, human food, nectar for insects. (sc)

Some of these trees can be grown relatively easily and cheaply from large stump cuttings pushed directly into the ground, normally at the start of the wet season or early in the wet season.

Nitrogen-fixing trees have the additional advantage of increasing soil fertility, resulting in higher productivity in less space.

In time, more tree growth will result in more shade. Some pasture sepcies which are shade tolerant include Desmodium heterocarpon subsp. ovalifolium and some cultivars of Guinea grass, e.g. cv. ‘Embue’ and ‘Petrie’. See the excellent web site Tropicalforages.org.

Nitrogen-fixing nodules, Sesbania cannabina. Cairns, Australia.

Nitrogen-fixing nodules, Sesbania cannabina. Cairns, Australia. Photo: David Clode.

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Gliricidia flowers.

Gliricidia flowers. Photo: David Clode.

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Parkia javanica foliage.

Parkia javanica foliage. Photo: David Clode.

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Enterolobium cyclocarpum

Enterolobium cyclocarpum. Photo: David Clode.

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Enterolobium wood. Photo: Alibaba.com.

Enterolobium wood. Photo: Alibaba.com.

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Fabulous Faidherbia albida tree. Photo: www.prota4u.org.

Fabulous Faidherbia albida tree. Photo: http://www.prota4u.org.

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Galloway cattle eat grass and leaves. Photo: Chris Stuart.

Galloway cattle eat grass and leaves. Photo: Chris Stuart.

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Living fences

Murraya paniculata. Photo: David Clode.

Murraya paniculata. Photo: David Clode.

Livestock need to be kept away from new trees by some means or another, until they have had time to establish. Trees need individual guards, or areas need to be at least temporarily fenced off.

For long term planned grazing management, one option is living fences, where plants can be grown closely together to form living fences. These living fences can divide larger fields into smaller areas, which helps to manage the livestock in a planned grazing system. Living fences are already popular in Central America, with Gliricidia sepium being one of the more popular species. One or two strands of barbed wire are normally used to make the fence effective in the early establishment phase.

The plants can provide additional fodder, as well as shelter from wind and hot sun for livestock. Living fences provide an opportunity to grow many different plant species to enormously increase biodiversity and provide habitat for wildlife. With increased plant biodiversity, the opportunity of beekeeping for honey becomes available.

Eugenia uniflora. Photo: David Clode.

Eugenia uniflora. Photo: David Clode.

A common combination in wet tropical regions is coral trees i.e. indigenous Erythrina spp. and elephant grass (Napier grass, Bana grass Cenchrus purpureus, previously Pennisetum purpureum). There are many other useful species and combinations of species.

Gliricidia sepium

Calliandra spp.

Ficus spp.

Premna spp.

Erythrina spp.

Inga spp.

Bougainvillea

Aloe spp.

bamboos

Murray paniculata

Guavas – Psidium spp (can be weeds outside of their natural range)

Eugenia uniflora needs to be combined with sturdier species, but provides nectar for wildlife, and fruit for people and wildlife. Likely to be a weed if it is grown where it does not naturally occur.

Cordyline spp. (along with other sturdier species)

Senna spp.

Sesbania spp.

Opuntia spp. (can often be weeds where they are not native)

Euphorbia spp.

Moringa oleifera

Cereus and similar columnar cactus spp.

Aloe arborescens hedge.

Aloe arborescens living fence/hedge. Controls the movement of livestock for better management, and provides nectar and shelter for wildlife, as well as stopping fires from spreading. Some provenances are from tropical regions such as Malawi in Africa. This species is also surpisingly shade tolerant for an Aloe. but needs good drainage. Photo: Leslie Smith, Bellarine Peninsula, Australia.

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Aloe arborescens, growing much further south (colder climate, Binalong bay, Tasmania Lat 41.3 South) than in south Africa (Cape Agulhas lat 34.8 South. Seems to cope with USDA zones 11 to 9 or even 8.

Aloe arborescens. Photo: David Clode, Binalong Bay, Tasmania, Australia.

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Aloes make good fire-retardant hedges, and stockproof living fences/stockpens.

Aloes make good fire-retardant hedges, and stockproof living fences/stockpens, and nectar for honey production. Aloe hybrid, Cairns, Australia. Photo: david Clode.

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Erythrina x bidwillii. Coral trees (and lower bushy spp.) make excellent livinf fences, providing fodder, and habitat and nectar for wild life. They are also nitrogen fixing, improving soil fertility.

Erythrina x bidwillii. Coral trees (and lower bushy spp. of Erythrina) make excellent living fences, providing fodder, and habitat and nectar for wild life. They are also nitrogen fixing, improving soil fertility. Photo: David Clode.

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Euphorbias can be used as live fences.

Thorny Euphorbias (and some cactus species) can be used as living fences. Euphorbia lactea. photo: David Clode.

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Cactus living fence. Photo: CoolCreativity.com.

Cactus living fence. Photo: CoolCreativity.com. Many species produce nectar and pollen and fruits for wildlife.

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Prickly pear Opuntia ficus-indica living fence. Photo: Desertification.wordpress.com.

Prickly pear Opuntia ficus-indica living fence. Some species are tropical, and some can be invasive weeds. Fruit for humans and wildlife, fodder, nectar and pollen, habitat. Photo: Desertification.wordpress.com.

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Ficus racemosa.

Ficus racemosa. Ficus species have leaves which are usually suitable as livestock fodder, and are extremely desirable for wildlife, providing food for many species including birds, bats, monkeys and other mammals. Not all species are large trees and could be used in living fences. Photo: David Clode.

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Lewins Honeyeater drinking nectar from a Calliandra surinamensis flower. Lake Barrine. Photo: David Clode.

South American Calliandra spp. provide nectar for wildlife including, depending on the species, birds, mammals such as bats, and insects. Lewin’s Honeyeater drinking nectar from a Calliandra surinamensis flower. Lake Barrine, Australia. Photo: David Clode.

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Calliandra cv 'Pink Poodle'

Calliandra cv ‘Pink Poodle’. Photo: David Clode.

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Sesbania grandiflora. A very fast growing nitrogen fixing tree which tolerates waterlogging, and is sometimes grown on bunds around rice paddies in SE Asia. Photo: David Clode.

Sesbania grandiflora. A very fast growing nitrogen fixing tree which tolerates waterlogging, and is sometimes grown on bunds around rice paddies in SE Asia. Photo: David Clode.

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Sesbania grandiflora has edible flowers.

Sesbania grandiflora has edible flowers for people, and nectar for wildlife.

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Sesbania grandiflora. FAO.org.

Young Sesbania grandiflora trees. FAO.org.

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Seed pods of Sesbania grandiflora. The tree is easy to grow from seed. Photo: David Clode.

Seed pods of Sesbania grandiflora. The tree is easy to grow from seed. Photo: David Clode.

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Moringa oleifera. Photo: David Clode.

Moringa oleifera. Photo: David Clode.

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Moringa tree showing flowers and developing seed pods. Booyong Drive, Forest Gardens, cairns.

Moringa tree showing flowers and developing seed pods. Photo: David Clode.

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Epiphytes

Some plant species can be grown as epiphytes on the tree trunks once the trees are established, to provide additional income sources and increase wildlife habitat value and biodiversity.

Dragon fruit.

Dragon fruit growing up a palm tree trunk. Photo: David Clode

Dragon fruit is very easy to grow, and provides food for people, and probably a wide range of domestic livestock.

Dragon fruit growing up a tree. Cathedral fig road, Atherton Tablelands. David Clode.

Dragon fruit growing up a tree. Cathedral fig road, Atherton Tablelands. David Clode.

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Dragon fruit. Shannon Drive, Bayview Hts, Cairns.

Dragon fruit. Photo: David Clode.

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Vanilla.

Vanilla is a high value crop which can be grown on tree trunks. Photo: David Clode.

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Piper sp.

Piper sp. photo: David Clode.

dragonfruit – human food, wildlife food, and possibly fodder for livestock

pepper vine

vanilla

For habitat and to increase biodiversity:

Scindapsis

Philodendron spp.

various climbing ferns, orchids and other epiphytes (many possibilities).

Scindapsus aureus climbing up a rain tree. Photo: David Clode.

Scindapsus aureus climbing up a rain tree. Photo: David Clode.

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Close up photo of Scindapsus climbing a rain tree. Photo: David Clode.

Close up photo of Scindapsus climbing a rain tree and providing shelter and habitat for many wildlife species. Photo: David Clode.

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Philodendron sp.

Philodendron sp. climbing a tree. Photo: David Clode.

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This foxtail palm, Wodyetia bifurcata, has survived decades of strangulation by the Philodendron.

This foxtail palm, Wodyetia bifurcata, has survived decades of strangulation by the Philodendron. Photo: David Clode.

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A mass of epiphytes covers a Barringtonia calyptrata tree. Cairns, Australia.

A mass of epiphytes covers a Barringtonia calyptrata tree, providing habitat for wildlife. Photo: David Clode, Cairns, Australia.

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Epiphytes growing on a rain tree.

Epiphytes growing on a rain tree. This tree with its epiphytes and associated wildlife is like an entire ecosystem by itself. Photo: David Clode

Epiphytes provide habitat for wildlife of many species, including arthropods, tree frogs, reptiles, birds, mammals, etc.

A dead tree covered in epiphytes, mostly Drynaria ferns. Cathedralig road, Atherton Tablelands. Photo: David Clode.

A dead tree covered in epiphytes, mostly Drynaria ferns. Cathedral Fig road, Atherton Tablelands. Photo: David Clode.

Conclusion

There are many beneficial and synergistic solutions to the environmental problems of cattle ranching. These solutions can reduce deforestation as well as add forests to the ranches themselves, while maintaining the productivity and profitability of cattle ranches.

Your suggestions

You are welcome to add any constructive comments or suggestions in the comments section below, or email me with any additional ideas you may have: daveclode@hotmail.com.

Resources

PROSEA No. 11 Auxilliary Plants. (Plant Resources of South-east Asia).

http://www.tropicalforages.org

Gully erosion caused by allowing stock access to an are which should never have been deforested and should have been fenced off. Cathedral fig road, Atherton tablelands. Photo: David Clode.

Gully erosion caused by allowing stock access to a steep area which should never have been deforested and should have been fenced off. Cathedral Fig road, Atherton tablelands. Photo: David Clode.

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