MSU Today has released the results of a recent study at Michigan State University led by Jason Rowntree. The study, published in the journal of Agriculture Systems, evaluated adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing operations and grain-fed feedlot herds. Beef production has traditionally been thought to be bad for the environment, with the release of greenhouse gases and its degradation of the land. More and more research is being conducted to learn about how AMP grazing- as opposed to continuous grazing- could be used to mitigate those effects.
Rowntree’s team conducted new research at MSU’s Lake Station AgBioResearch Center. The scientists tallied finishing phase stats, daily weight gain and other factors and compared them to GHGs from digestion and fermentation, manure storage and handling and feed production and energy use. They also measured carbon losses from soil erosion.
Environmentally, AMP systems came out in the green, while feedlot emissions were in the red primarily because of feed-based nitrogen emissions from fertilizer.
AMP is not as productive as feedlots, based on yields, but the AMP grazing system produced considerably greater amounts of beef on a land basis as compared to continuous grazing, showing that improved management can increase the output of grass-fed beef, he said. Ultimately, in a closed system, this implies somewhat lower per capita beef consumption, but greater environmental benefits from what is consumed.
AMP grazing has received more attention in recent years, as multiple studies have found that that it has many environmental benefits as compared to grain feeding and continuous grazing. In AMP grazing cattle are moved quickly between small paddocked areas. The vegetation has a longer period to recover, is more nutritious for the cattle, and helps prevent erosion. Feedlots have the advantage of being more productive, and can produce more beef on less land, but have higher GHG emissions.
Rowntree insists that this research isn’t advocating for one approach over another, but rather looking to discover best production practices for all methods.
The results of the Michigan State study largely replicate a similar 2016 study from Texas A&M University. Cheryl Anderson of DTNPF explained the research of Richard Teague, Seong Park and Tong Wang. The three examined the possibility of reducing the net carbon footprint of ruminants using improved grazing methods like AMP.
The adaptive multi-paddock grazing is more environmentally friendly, because it results in more carbon sequestration in the soil. In fact, the higher-quality grass produced by using this method actually reduces the methane gas emitted from the cows.
Teague explained that by using this method of grazing and keeping the plants leafy, it results in a higher quality of nutrition for cattle. The cattle can digest the higher-quality grass more quickly, which lowers the amount of methane gas they emit.
“If you’ve covered the ground and the plants are growing well, that causes the microbes to improve the soil. So more rain enters the soil, increasing your productivity. Increasing the productivity causes a greater amount of carbon to be put into the soil,” he explained.
Teague explained that if a cow is in a natural environment, grazing on a range that is under good management, much more carbon is captured and put it into the ground than the amount the cow is emitting.
If a farmer is considering switching to the AMP grazing method, it’s extremely important to learn as much as possible before making the change. Teague advises farmers to seek out other farmers that do it well. For more information on the AMP grazing method and benefits, read more at dtnpf.com.
Image courtesy of MSU Today