Adding value to grassfed cattle operations by restoring rangeland health with targeted grazing on California's Central Coast

Project Overview

FW20-364
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $19,673.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G356-20-W7900
Grant Recipient: Willow Creek Land and Cattle, LLC
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Elizabeth Reikowski
Willow Creek Land and Cattle, LLC

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing - rotational, grazing management
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns

    Proposal summary:

    Willow Creek Land and Cattle, LLC, a new business established by a young brother and sister entrepreneur team in 2018, proposes to test and evaluate the efficacy of adaptively managed, targeted, rotational cattle grazing as an ecosystem management tool for California's Mediterranean grasslands and as an economically viable business model for cattle production. During a 3-year study period, Willow Creek Land and Cattle, LLC will conduct rigorous ecosystem surveys, a series of exclosure-grazing treatment experiments, and multi-variable evaluations of livestock performance and economic costs and returns on two California coastal ranches. This project is particularly relevant and timely as California’s Mediterranean grasslands have declined dramatically over the last few centuries due to introductions of nonnative species, agricultural intensification, and urban expansion. Grassland degradation coupled with increasingly extreme drought and fire regimes threaten the economic viability of farmers and ranchers, who rely on productive and resilient grassland ecosystems for livestock production. The data generated during the 3-year study period will help inform other producers in California interested in ecosystem restoration as an additional source of income for cattle operations, as well as directly support the goals of a small, new business founded by two young ranchers. The economic viability and social prosperity of livestock producers depends on managing livestock grazing with the goal of enhancing grassland plant communities while simultaneously promoting livestock performance. This project will improve our understanding of grazing as a tool for management and restoration of grasslands and test whether these management approaches are economically viable and competitive.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will investigate the ecological and economic outcomes of employing targeted grazing practices on two cattle ranches on California’s central coast. Specifically our goals are:

    1. Measure the effect of specific grazing treatments with cattle on:
      1. Species richness, density, and cover of native perennial grasses
      2. Species richness and cover of native forbs
      3. Species richness and cover of Cal-IPC listed invasive plants
      4. Recruitment, growth, and survival of Blue oak (Quercus douglasii) seedlings
    2. Determine whether cattle performance is improved, reduced, or unaffected when cattle are utilized for targeted grazing projects.
    3. Evaluate the economic efficacy of targeted grazing as both a business model and as a grassland management tool by conducting a cost and return case study comparing rotational grazing with cattle to:
      1. Common alternative land management approaches such as herbicide application and mechanical treatment
      2. Results of previous cost-profit analyses conducted on California Central Coast ranches
    4. Disseminate results to farmers, ranchers, and land managers through demonstration events, blog posts, articles in professional journals, and presentations at conferences.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.