Groundbreaking research could help ranchers optimize free-range grazing

University of Alberta Folio – December 13, 2021 By Bev Betkowski.

A new University of Alberta research project could help ranchers customize their cattle to the type of pastures they have, creating economic and environmental benefits along the way. Launched this past summer, the research involves tracking the movements and feeding habits of grazing cattle, looking to identify genetic traits that could lead to breeding more efficient livestock.

The project opens up a sweeping, multi-dimensional approach to precision ranching, said lead investigator Edward Bork, a professor of rangeland ecology and management in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES).

“This is pioneering work. No one has ever at this scale linked together the productivity and associated economics, genetics and environmental outcomes of free-range grazing.”

Unlike other livestock-based industries where producers can create precise feeding and activity environments to maximize efficiency and minimize operational waste, cattle ranchers face the challenge of managing animals that roam and feed as they please in huge pastures, Bork noted.

“These animals are out in natural landscapes and continually make decisions on where to go, how far to travel and what to eat. Those decisions can affect some factors of ultimate productivity.

“We want to try to identify animals that are going to select the right habitat, the right forage species to optimize their weight and productivity, while at the same time not overgrazing pasture resources.”

Read more about the Grazing Efficiency project.