Cattle Ranching and Deforestation

Cactus living fence. Photo: CoolCreativity.com.

Cactus living fence. Photo: CoolCreativity.com.

Cattle ranching, deforestation and reforestation.

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”. On this page, suggestions are made to improve the situation.

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Suggestions for reducing deforestation and the potentially negative environmental impacts of cattle ranching, and instead managing livestock for positive environmental and economic outcomes

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 used with planned grazing can further improve the environment and be used for reforestation – see the relevant pages on this site such as the page on FMNR and the AID treatment for more.

In recent research, it has been demonstrated that cattle (and presumably other livestock) can be used to good ecological and economic effect, where they are fed biochar and molasses, and then dung beetles incorporate their manure and biochar into the soil, improving soils and sequestering carbon (for thousands of years), and increasing productivity and profitability: Josephetal2015Pedosphere-Feedingbiochartocows

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The potential of livestock concentrated in a small area to improve soil and plant growth. Maize control plot on the left (no livestock), and livestock treated plot on the right. Photo: Buckminster Fuller Institute.

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leucaena_over_napier_nthcairns

Leucanea leucocephala, a high protein nitrogen-fixing fodder tree, with elephant grass as an under-storey (Cenchrus purpureus, prev. Pennisetum purpureum). This combination produces massive amounts of livestock feed, and has huge potential for carbon storage in soils. Photo: David Clode. Cairns, a wet tropical part of Australia.

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DSCF0430

Leucaena leucocephala growing over Elephant or Napier grass (Cenchrus purpureus). Photo: David Clode in Cairns Australia..

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Fodder trees and reforesting cattle ranches (and other livestock farms)

Growing fodder trees and using livestock that browse leaves as well as graze grass (such as Bali cattle, also known as Banteng, and Galloway cattle) means more feed for livestock.

Therefore:

the same number of livestock can be kept in a smaller area with no loss of productivity and so a smaller area is deforested, meaning less deforestation in the first place, and/or space becomes available for reforestation,

or, the same numbers in the existing area, with extra productivity meaning there is no need for further deforestation,

or, more but well managed livestock in the existing area, with lower individual weight gains, but the same productivity overall, and no need for further deforestation,

and potentially more livestock in a smaller area with greatly increased productivity and less deforestation, if the livestock are very well managed, using planned grazing and the AID plus seeds system of treatments.

The important point is that Increased productivity means less deforestation, and adding trees means the ranches are being reforested.

Update April 2021: A scientific trial in North Queensland Australia has demonstrated that adding Nitrogen-fixing Leucaeana leucocephala fodder trees at 10 metre spacing to pasture has resulted in a doubling of livestock productivity gains: “steers in a leucaeana paddock were gaining 600g per day compared with 300g per day for steers grazing on pasture”.

Legume is viable fodder. Bronwyn Farr. Cairns Post, April 14 2021, page 24. cairnspost.com.au.

Note: It is usually best to establish trees and plants which are indigenous, and not introduced species, especially if they tend to be invasive weeds.

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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 forest, trees can be added (or kept) to actually increase grass growth in some cases (e.g. rain trees Albizia saman/Samanea saman, Faidherbia albida, Prosopis cinerea, Parkia sp.). These trees also drop edible bean pods, leaves and flowers. 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, hay and corn, which have to be transported, and of course deforestation has also likely 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 or at least open grassy woodland in areas that were deforested, but probably 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, higher humidity and a reduction in windiness (lower humidity tends to decrease photosynthesis because the stomata close, which means less growth, and windiness tends to do the same), temperature reduction and moderation, and so on.

As an aside, deforestation on the lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania has resulted in lower humidity in the air, including air at higher elevations, which in turn causes sublimation of ice directly into vapour, resulting in the loss of ice on the summit (not caused by anthropogenic global warming but by deforestation).

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 fodder, or timber, or to let more light through, and new branches grow back, which can in turn be pruned. 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.

Dragon fruit grown on trees (such as rain trees and oil palms in the tropics) could provide additional income selling the fruit for human consumption, and for animal fodder. Dragon fruit plants growing on tree trunks would provide habitat for wildlife and the flowers provide nectar for wildlife. Dragon fruit plants are easy to establish, from cuttings tied to trees or palms with string or just wedged in where possible. See photos further down this page.

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Coral tree, Erythrina indica

Nitrogen-fixing Coral tree, Erythrina indica. These trees provide fodder, improve soils, and supply nectar for wildlife. 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.

p1120728 tagasaste sheep

Mediterranean climate fodder tree. Sheep feeding on high protein nitrogen-fixing tree lucerne (Tagasaste, Cytisus proliferus) in South Africa. Photo: Myles Esterhuizen, Lucernetreefarm.WordPress.com.

In time, more tree growth will result in more shade. Some pasture species which are shade tolerant include Desmodium heterocarpon subsp. ovalifolium and some cultivars of Guinea grass, e.g. cv. ‘Embue’ and ‘Petrie’ (in the wet tropics and perhaps subtropics).

Some species of trees can be coppiced or pollarded to provide more light for pasture grasses. See the excellent web site Tropicalforages.org.

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

Nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of an annual Sesbania sp. Cairns, Australia. Photo: David Clode.

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Gliricidia flowers.

Gliricidia flowers. Photo: David Clode.

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Parkia javanica foliage.

Nitrogen-fixing Parkia javanica foliage. Photo: David Clode.

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Enterolobium cyclocarpum

Enterolobium cyclocarpum. Fodder and nitrogen fixation. 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. Improved soils and grass or crop productivity beneath its canopy. 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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leucaena_seedpods

Seedpods of Leucaena leucocephala, a high protein nitrogen-fixing fodder tree native to South America.

In summary, deforested areas which have been converted to pasture can be at least partially restored by establishing complementary species of trees, and if the AID plus seeds method is used, the livestock themselves can be used to establish the trees, and in addition perhaps add biodiversity to the pastures. It is therefore possible to reproduce an ecosystem which goes some way to restoring the biodiversity and stability of the original vegetation.

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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, or livestock kept out of the area until the trees establish.

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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In The South American rain forests, adding trees to cattle ranches would provide more habitat for wildlife such as this yellow and blue macaw. 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.

Sesbania species could be added between oil palms to provide some more biodiversity, shelter, and nitrogen fixation, much like gliricidia in cocoa and coffee plantations.

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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. It could be suitable to grow on palms in oil palm plantations.

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.

dragon fruit – 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. It should now be fenced off and trees planted. Cathedral Fig road, Atherton tablelands. Photo: David Clode.

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