Knowledge Gaps in Assess and Predicting Grazing System Performance: Art or Science?

TitleKnowledge Gaps in Assess and Predicting Grazing System Performance: Art or Science?
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsBrown J., Ash A.
Conference NameSociety for Range Management 59th Annual Meeting
Date PublishedFebruary 12-17,
Conference LocationVancouver, British Columbia
ARIS Log Number196578
Keywordsgrazing, rangeland, tame pastures
AbstractThe adoption of research techniques associated with tame pastures has improved the community scale understanding of rangeland grazing systems. While our undertanding of grazing behavior, diet selection and intake has benefited by a more intensive approach, there is little evidence that livestock performance is improved by any rest/rotation scheme compared with continuous moderate stocking. Likewise, individual and community-based investigations of plant response to defoliation have increased our understanding of the physiological and morphological basis for changes in species composition. The result is we have a solid understanding of soil, plant, and animal responses to grazing systems at the community scale, and have developed from that understanding a predictive capacity as the basis for management decisions. That understanding has not translated into a widespread improvement in management outcomes attributable to the grazing system per se. However, many advisors and practitioners continue to insist that grazing systems have achieved miraculous economic, ecological, and social results. Perhaps this incongruity stems from lack of quantification of how management changes with adoption and how a more intensive grazing system might directly enhance (or improve perception of) productivity or the environment. In spite of our science, beauty remains in the eye of the beholder. We suggest that a more meaningful approach to compare grazing schemes might be in terms of competing technologies, such as adoption rate, success/failure rate, implementation cost, and change in management effort and lifestyle. From a physical science perspective, what is their impact on variables such as water and soil quality and biological diversity at landscape and watershed scales where quantifiable public, rather than private, benefits accrue? While each practitioner may be an artist, the value of grazing systems can best be assessed and predicted by our profession using improved science at large scales with attributes more in the public interest.