Enhancement of Sustainable Livestock Grazing through Selection and Training

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $229,527.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Derek Bailey
New Mexico State University

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management

    Proposal abstract:

    Livestock distribution is a critical problem facing ranchers grazing western rangelands. Fencing and water developments have not resolved all concerns with riparian management, and localized overgrazing. Novel practices that complement traditional fence-based grazing systems are needed to resolve difficult distribution problems. Development of cattle that are adapted to graze extensive and rugged rangeland will reduce overgrazing of riparian areas and increase use of slopes that are underutilized. Such management will improve wildlife habitat and increase biodiversity without large capital intensive improvements, increased use of fossil fuels and additional labor. About 1/3 of extensive and rugged pastures receive little, if any, grazing. Improved distribution could allow stocking rates to be sustainably increased by as much as 1/3 or avoid destocking during drought. Previous SARE-funded research by Bailey et al. (2006) showed that selection has the potential to improve grazing distribution and reduce impacts to riparian areas by 40%. Although the SW98-064 project was a pivotal study and was clearly successful and informative, it was only the first step in development of genetic selection and training strategies to improve grazing distribution. The next step is to determine how to best implement selection. Preliminary analyses suggest that genotype plays a role in grazing distribution, but we must quantify the degree that grazing distribution patterns are inherited. If the level that cattle use rough terrain use can be inherited, breeders can develop and sell bulls that sire daughters that readily use rugged rangeland. If distribution is not inherited, but learned, producers can still train cattle to use rough terrain. Objectives of this project are: 1) Evaluate the extent that genetics influence cattle distribution; 2) Determine if the propensity for cows to use rugged terrain can be identified from the behavior of the bull that sired it; and, 3) Use selection of adapted cattle as a forum and demonstration to train ranchers to implement site-specific grazing practices. Cattle distribution on 5 ranches located in New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming will be recorded by horseback observers and GPS collars. Cows that use rugged terrain (hill climbers), and cows that use gentle terrain near water (bottom dwellers) will be identified and used as experimental units. Genetic relationships between these animals (disparate tails of the distribution) will be determined from DNA samples. If hill climbers are unique genetic groups, then terrain use and distribution traits can be readily inherited in cattle. In addition, bulls will be tracked by GPS collars to determine if differences in bull behavior and movement patterns can be used to predict terrain use of daughters using multiple regression. The outreach portion of the project will train producers to teach fellow producers the value of applying genetic and learning principles toward improving sustainable animal distribution. Investigators and producer cooperators will conduct field trips to allow other producers and land managers to learn how to implement selection and other distribution practices in a "hands-on" setting. Field trips and workshops will be held in New Mexico and Arizona to involve and engage ranchers to apply new and exciting technology toward solving land management problems (e.g., over use, under use, T&E issues, riparian conservation). Educational products will include scientific journal publications, popularized articles and fact sheets, which will be posted on the BEHAVE outreach network and university websites. Surveys will assess how much producers learn about site-specific distribution practices from field trips and workshops, a short-range outcome of the project. Later, questionnaires will quantify the extent to which ranchers actually incorporate new distribution practices into their operations and the extent to which these new practices have benefited their operations, both medium-range project outcomes.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1) Evaluate the extent that genetics influence cattle distribution.

    1a) Determine if cattle that use rugged terrain far from water are familialy related.

    1b) Determine if cattle that use gentle terrain near water are familialy related.

    2) Determine if the propensity for cows to use rugged terrain can be identified from the behavior of the bull that sired it.

    3) Use identification and selection of adapted cattle at cooperating ranches as a forum and demonstration to train ranchers to develop and implement site-specific grazing management practices.

    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.