Science for a Blue Planet

Science for a Blue Planet

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A Little Rest Goes a Long Way

By | December 12, 2014

Tomkat cows crop

Just like us, grasslands need rest to improve their health. A study just published by Point Blue Conservation Science in the journal Ecological Restoration shows a 72 percent increase in where native perennial grasses were found on a coastal California ranch when cattle grazing was changed to give the land more time to rest.

Over the last 300 years, nonnative annual grasses have invaded California’s grasslands. These exotic grasses complete their life cycle in one year and out-compete the native perennial grasses (grasses that live for multiple years).

Native perennial grasslands provide habitat for many bird species and other wildlife while also allowing water to better infiltrate soil, decreasing erosion and increasing water storage. They also stay green into the dry months and provide forage for cattle during lean times.

Grazing lands near the California coast.

Grazing lands near the California coast.

“Managing land and animals to promote perennial grasses through holistic planned grazing offers ranchers the most effective means of creating a profitable beef business, viable in the long-term, “says Joe Morris of T.O. Cattle Company.The study’s scientists documented the increase in perennial grasses by monitoring plant communities at TomKat Ranch near Pescadero, Calif., over the last three years. TomKat Ranch is a 728 hectare (1,800 acre) cow-calf grass-fed beef operation of 100–150 head.

In 2011, the ranch switched from continuous grazing, allowing cattle to graze over large portions of the ranch for months at a time, to a planned grazing approach. They increased cattle density by moving them through a series of smaller subdivided pastures, resting each pasture for 70 to 120 days before grazing again.

Three years after the change, the number of vegetation survey units where native perennial grasses were found increased by 72 percent.

“At TomKat Ranch, we value food production done in a way that maximizes benefits to our entire ranching system—our business, our community and the environment” says Kat Taylor, owner of TomKat Ranch. “Point Blue’s science shows how using rest-rotational grazing can begin to restore coastal rangelands to native grasses.”

The research suggests planned grazing promotes native perennial grass growth by reducing competition from invasive annual grasses. The periods of rest from grazing, especially during plant flowering, allow for more native perennial seed production and increase plant numbers, vigor and size.

“By managing for perennial grasses we tend to increase the productivity of our ranches, their beauty, and their resilience against drought,” Morris says.

Download or view a one-page summary of the scientific publication: http://www.pointblue.org/uploads/assets/pubbriefs/pubbrief_perennialgrasses_Henneman_EcoRest.pdf

Study citation: Henneman, C., N.E. Seavy, & T. Gardali. 2014. Restoring Native Perennial Grasses by Changing Grazing Practices in Central Coastal California. Ecological Restoration, 32:352-354.

Check out a recent NBC Bay Area news story on Tomkat Ranch.

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