Posts Tagged: cattle
California is searching for solutions to the wildfire crisis. Livestock ranchers believe they can help.
At the 14th Annual Rangeland Summit in Stockton in January, more than 150 ranchers, public land managers and representatives of non-profit organizations that work on land conservation gathered to share research and experiences that outline the value of cattle and sheep grazing on rangeland.
Since California was settled by Europeans, cattle and sheep have been an integral part of the state's history.
“Cattle can control brush,” said Lynn Huntsinger, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley in a presentation on brush management. She discussed research she conducted in the early 1980s to understand the role of cattle in Sierra Nevada brush control.
“We need to make livestock into firefighters,” she said. “Constant, deliberate, targeted grazing is needed for fire management.”
However, thick, overgrown brush requires intensive treatment that cattle can't handle on their own.
“You have to start from a good place,” Huntsinger said. “Start early, such as post fire. Plan when you have a blank slate for the forest you want.”
The tragic loss of homes and lives to wildfire in the last few years has increased the public demand for answers and action. However, the reasons for greater frequency and intensity of wildfire are not well understood.
“Is it climate change? Past decisions? Land use? What can we do about it?” asked UC Cooperative Extension specialist Van Butsic. “Research.”
At the summit, Butsic presented the results of his recent research to determine whether ownership has an impact upon whether land will burn. He and his colleagues studied the burn histories of forest and rangeland areas that were matched with the same characteristics, except in ownership.
“We controlled for all factors – slope, elevation, the likelihood of ignition,” he said. “We found that on forest and rangeland, federal ownership led to .3 percent higher fire probability. Ownership is dwarfing the impact of climate change.”
There is still much more research to be done.
“We can't say the impact of grazed vs. ungrazed land,” Butsic said. “We also need to look at fire severity as well as fire frequency.”
The UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Modoc County, Laura Snell, shared preliminary results at the rangeland summit that provide information for landowners making decisions about returning livestock to burned areas.
She and a team of colleagues studied the fire history of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management rangeland in Lassen and Modoc counties where fires had burned through 5, 10 and 15 years before. The dataset included information about whether the land was “rested” for two years after the fire, or whether livestock were returned to graze soon after the blaze.
The scientists set out to determine whether fire intensity and climate at the site (measured by soil temperature and moisture) had an impact on the future diversity of plant species and growth of cheat grass, an invasive species that animals don't like.
“No matter what we did, graze or not graze, after 15 years, the species richness stayed the same,” Snell said. “Grazing was not the driving factor.”
The results are also important in terms of fuels accumulation and the prevention of future wildfires.
“Federal land managers have typically used a policy to rest the land for two years after a fire. During the interval, the fuels sometimes burn again and livestock producers have to wait another two years,” Snell said. “Our research showed you don't necessarily need to rest the land after the fire.”
Two ranchers who were recently impacted by wildfire presented their experiences and perspectives during the rangeland summit.
Mike Williams of Diamond W Cattle Company had livestock on 6,500 acres of leased land in Ventura County when the Thomas Fire ignited on Dec. 4, 2017. Over more than a month, the fire burned 281,893 acres and consumed 1,000 structures.
Williams had stockpiled feed on certain pastures by limiting grazing, which during the fire turned into hazardous fuel.
Adam Cline, rangeland manager for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Preserve in the Capay Valley, had a similar experience when the County Fire burned more than 90,000 acres in western Yolo and eastern Napa counties in June and July 2018. To reserve feed for later, Cline had left 2,500 pounds per acre of residual dry matter on grazing land as a drought mitigation strategy. He said he plans to reconsider this grazing plan.
“Now, cattle feed looks like a lot of fuel,” he said.
While Americans traditionally beat a path to the malls the day after Thanksgiving, many opt out of shopping on Black Friday to enjoy the outdoors. In regional parks and other open spaces, hikers may encounter crowds of a different sort – cattle grazing with their calves. A 1,200-pound cow blocking the path can be daunting.
With a little patience and understanding, people who hike, bike and horseback ride can coexist peacefully with the cattle, according to Sheila Barry, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor in Santa Clara County.
For happier trails, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has produced a series of videos that show hikers how they can amicably share open space with their beefy neighbors. In a two-minute video, a black cow puppet with a furry white face describes how to politely coax cows to moo-ove aside without spurring a Black Friday stampede.
“We wanted to produce videos that are entertaining as well as informative,” Barry said.
The cow pun-filled video also describes the ecosystem services cattle provide by consuming nearly their body weight in plants. By grazing, cows manage the vegetation, reducing wildfire fuel, increasing water capture and promoting the diversity of native grasses and wildflowers.
In “Sharing open spaces with livestock,” the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources livestock experts give four simple tips for safely sharing open space with cows on the trail:
- Keep moo-ving and speak in a normal tone. Sudden movements and loud noises may surprise cows.
- Approach cows from the side or front. They find it udderly unnerving to have someone sneak up from behind, the bovine blind spot.
- Steer clear of getting between a protective mother and her calf.
- If you need to move a cow, step slowly into its flight zone. Invading the animal's “personal space” will motivate it to mosey aside.
A second video, “Sharing open spaces with livestock when you have a dog,” gives advice for dog owners to keep their best friends safe around cows.
In a third video, “A year in the life of a cow,” the UC Cooperative Extension spokespuppet describes a typical year for a beef cow.
“The videos are a fun way to educate the public about grazing on rangelands,” said Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and rangeland advisor in Sonoma County.
The videos are based on the UC ANR publication “Understanding Working Rangelands,” authored by Barry and Larson, at http://ucanr.edu/shareopenspace.
Watch all three videos on UC ANR's YouTube channel:
Sharing open spaces with livestock https://youtu.be/Qd8LEGLDhaM
Sharing open spaces with livestock when you have a dog https://youtu.be/zzdGnfFwmcA
A year in the life of a cow https://youtu.be/znJbWknVXVg
The USDA approved the expansion of ongoing field trials in November for an experimental vaccine, developed by UC Davis veterinary researchers, after it was shown to be effective in preventing foothill abortion in more than 2,000 cattle.
Foothill abortion – endemic in California's coastal range and the foothill regions of California, Southern Oregon and Northern Nevada – is a bacterial disease in cattle also known as epizootic bovine abortion. It is a major cause of economic loss for California beef producers, annually causing the death of an estimated 45,000 to 90,000 calves.
The disease is transmitted by bites from the pajaroello tick, found only in the intermountain West. The tick lives in the soil around juniper, pine and oak trees, and in dry brush areas and around rock outcroppings of foothill rangelands. The disease became known as "foothill abortion" after ranchers in the 1930s and 1940s noticed that the pregnant heifers they sent to pasture in the foothills aborted after returning to valley pastures. Infected pregnant cows show no obvious symptoms but the bacteria can infect their fetuses in the first half of gestation before they develop an immune system capable of fighting off the infection. Cows will carry the infected fetus to term but the calves are born either dead or very weak and fail to thrive.
“Our Western cattle producers are desperate for some relief to stop their losses resulting from this disease,” said Jeff Stott, a UC Davis professor and veterinary immunologist. Stott is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Fifth generation rancher Buck Parks from Lassen County is one example of a cattle producer who has experienced losses as a result of foothill abortion. Until recently, he was losing an average of 25 to 35 calves each year to the disease from a herd of about 300 cows. He said about 20 percent of the losses are from “first-calf heifers,” or first-time mother cows. According to Parks, while the disease is regional, and spotty within those regions, it is challenging to run a cattle ranch for those affected.
“For those of us who suffer, it's a very difficult thing to deal with,” he said. “Like any business, these kinds of losses make it tough to operate within our margins.”
Parks has been participating in the trials since the experimental vaccine first became available four years ago and has experienced significant results – with only eight abortions in his cattle this year.
Preliminary vaccine field trials began in 2011 and have since involved more than 4,000 cattle in California and Nevada. The expanded trials which began in spring involving several thousand more cattle will further establish the vaccine's effectiveness in varied conditions as well as provide relief to ranchers. The trials are expected to last into 2017.
Stott is confident the vaccine can help prevent foothill abortion for cattle producers like Parks. And, according to him, there already has been interest from niche pharmaceutical companies in manufacturing the vaccine.
Identifying the cause of foothill abortion and developing a vaccine to prevent it has proved a long-term challenge for researchers. In fact, some scientists have spent entire careers pursuing identification of the causative agent of foothill abortion.
Professor Stott has led the effort in collaboration with the California Cattlemen's Association, the USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics, the Animal Health Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Nevada Department of Agriculture, and the University of Nevada, Reno. It is a project of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Center for Food Animal Health (CFAH). The CFAH serves as the veterinary medical component of the Agricultural Experiment Station of UC ANR.
(A news article about the vaccine trials appeared May 8, 2015 in the journal Science.)/span>
Water quality — Water is the most critical factor in the diet of food animals. When cattle don't drink enough clean and safe water every day, feed intake and productivity declines. Drought conditions can potentially affect all sources of water, including groundwater, but surface waters are especially vulnerable. It is important to frequently monitor water quality, especially as quantity becomes more limited, and test for basic water quality parameters such as total dissolved solids, sodium, sulfates, and nitrates/nitrites. Blooms of blue-green algae in water are also an issue. These cyanobacteria can produce toxins that can affect the liver and nervous system. Depending on the specific toxin and amount ingested, animals may die suddenly, or suffer from weakness, staggering, or photosensitization.
Feed quality and nutritional deficiencies — Drought conditions frequently result in the need to feed poor quality forages or to switch to alternative feed sources. Both can affect animal nutrition and increase the risk for intoxications. Use of poor quality forages can cause or exacerbate deficiencies of important minerals such as selenium, copper, and phosphorus and vitamins such as vitamins A and E. In addition, drought affected forages are often deficient in energy and protein. Even in non-drought years, deficiencies in selenium and copper are common in California cattle, particularly beef cattle. Copper deficiency causes reduced production, diarrhea, decreased resistance to infectious agents and parasites, poor vaccine response, loss of bone strength in calves, weakness and wobbling in neonates, reproductive failure, and sudden death of adult animals. Selenium deficiency also results in less resistance to infectious agents and parasites, and causes white muscle disease of skeletal and heart muscle resulting in stiff gaits, slow movement, heart damage and weak neonates. Primary vitamin A deficiency occurs in beef cattle on dry range pasture during periods of drought. Clinical signs include night blindness, dry eye, retarded growth rate, reproductive failures, and increased mortality. Maternal deficiency of vitamin A can cause abortions, stillbirths, or calves born alive but blind and weak that die within 1 to 3 days. Cows should be given an injection of vitamin A (and D) about 30 days prior to calving and calves should be given a vitamin A injection at birth.
Increased incidence of plant poisonings — Cattle will seek out and consume plants that they would not otherwise find palatable during drought conditions. Nitrate poisoning is one of the most common plant associated intoxications diagnosed by the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory. The potential for nitrate poisoning to occur is increased when livestock water sources also contain elevated concentrations. The first sign of nitrate poisoning is often the sudden and unexplained deaths of one or more animals. Other clinical signs include drowsiness, weakness, muscle tremors, increased heart and respiratory rates, staggering, and recumbency. Signs can develop with several hours of ingesting a toxic amount. Nitrate concentrations can be easily and cheaply determined from samples submitted to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory for testing.
During periods of drought, cattle producers should be especially careful about the quality of feed and water available for their animals. Sick animals should be tested for various nutritional deficiencies and dead animals can undergo necropsies to determine cause of death so that other animals in the herd can be treated appropriately. Additional information and testing is available at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System. For laboratory location and contact info, visit www.cahfs.ucdavis.edu. A longer, more detailed version of these tips may be found here.
Robert H. Poppenga and Birgit Puschner, veterinary toxicologists with the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, contributed to this article.
To get a more complete picture of public perceptions of cattle grazing, Sheila Barry, University of California Cooperative Extension advisor in the San Francisco Bay Area, analyzed photos and comments in the photo-sharing website Flickr.
Her study, published in the February 2014 issue of Environmental Management, showed that Flickr can provide insight both through photos and comments into public perspectives on grazing in parks and open space lands.
“These are just a first step toward broadening this understanding,” Barry wrote. “Further analysis of social media may provide managers with broader insights into public opinion compared to those afforded by traditional methods on a wide range of issues important to park and open space management.” Livestock grazing reduces the volume of plants that can fuel fire and improves wildlife habitat. But some public land managers, concerned about potential conflicts with park users, limit or ban grazing. In 2009, the city of Walnut Creek decided to end grazing in two city parks. A year later, neighbors who were concerned about weeds contributing to wildfire petitioned the city to resume cattle grazing.
Assessments of public perceptions are often based on public hearings, which tend to attract special interests and favor negative input, or on surveys, which focus on a topic.
“Despite numerous studies that have shown benefits of grazing for endangered species in California, some environmental groups and park users have filed lawsuits to curtail grazing on public rangelands,” Barry said. “I think there's an opportunity to educate people that if grazing is well managed, it won't interfere with their recreational use and there are benefits to society.”
The San Francisco Bay Area has over 133,000 acres of public land that is grazed by cattle and used by people to hike, ride bikes, walk dogs, ride horses and hang glide.
Barry set out to explore how people voluntarily described their feelings about cattle grazing in the San Francisco Bay Area on social media. She examined photos and comments on Flickr. Using the search terms “cow,” “cows” and “grazing,” she found 1,087 photos of grazed regional parks in Alameda, Contra Costa or Santa Clara counties by 328 people with 956 comments.
Of the 733 photos that were accompanied by comments, 71 percent showed a cow and 71 percent of the comments were descriptive without expressing opinion about cows or grazing. Comments included “Lots of wildflowers and cows. Hello tiny cows on the hillside.” “Taken at Lake Del Valle.” “I don't know why, but I thought cows in California were kept indoors.” About 23 percent were positive toward cows and grazing, such as “Wonderful to see cows being just cows and happy ones” and “As much as I struggled over the steep hills on this hike, all the grazing cattle and howling coyotes made it worth the sweat.”
Fear of cows was expressed by 5 percent of commenters and included comments such as “I try to conquer my fear of cows by photographing them,” “The cows scared us to death. I told them that I'm a vegetarian and they let me go” and “We turned around when we were faced with the option of having to walk right through a herd of cows.”
Less than 1 percent described cows behaving aggressively, such as “At least these cows didn't chase us like last week's did.”
Although more research is needed to learn how to collect, analyze and interpret data from social media, Barry believes it could be a valuable source for informing decisions about public policy.
Insight into public perceptions of cattle grazing will enable park managers to craft more effective education and interpretation messages about park use and management.
“We are currently using insight from this project to develop education and interpretative information and panels for parks in the East Bay,” Barry said.
Barry is publishing fact sheets for park managers and interpreters to share with park visitors. The fact sheets will address concerns she saw raised in the Flickr study such as how to safely and comfortably recreate in a park near grazing cattle and the benefits of cattle grazing in parks. She will also address public interest and questions revealed in the Flickr study with facts sheets titled “A Year in the Life” and “Bovines, Ovines, Caprines and Equines: What's the difference?” The fact sheets will also be available online and similar information will be posted in parks on interpretative panels.
The article “Using Social Media to Discover Public Values, Interests, and Perceptions about Cattle Grazing on Park Lands” can be downloaded at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00267-013-0216-4.