Assessing grazing behavior of heritage, hybrid, and conventional cattle breeds in response to climate change

TitleAssessing grazing behavior of heritage, hybrid, and conventional cattle breeds in response to climate change
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsMcIntosh MM, Spiegal S., McIntosh S., Sanchez JCastano, Estell RE, Steele C, Elias EH, C. Bailey D, Brown JR, Cibils AF
Conference NameSociety for Range Management
ARIS Log Number399046
Keywordsbehavior, cattle breeds, climate change, grazing, Heritage cattle, hybrid cattle

Evidence suggests that heritage and hybrid beef cattle breeds exhibit more flexible foraging behaviors compared to highly selected conventional breeds. We hypothesize that these behaviors could be capitalized upon to support sustainability outcomes, such as biodiversity or climate change adaptation. We conducted a systematic search of studies that compared beef cattle breeds for behavioral traits and found 54 studies conducted since 1966 located in 9 of the 14 major terrestrial biomes, with 60 beef or dual-purpose breeds represented. We created a typology of the studies with respect to decade, continent, breed provenance (Continental, Criollo, Hybrid, B. indicus, Mediterranean, Sanga, British Isles), breed selection intensity (heritage [limited selection pressure], conventional [high selection pressure], hybrid [moderate selection pressure]), biome, study intent, and whether breeds met desired outcomes described by the study authors. Most studies (69%) were conducted in arid rangeland settings in developed nations where researchers sought to minimize the negative environmental impacts of beef production. In comparisons of grazing behavior of heritage versus conventional types (n=25 studies), and hybrid versus conventional types (n=18 studies), heritage and hybrid cattle displayed more adapted traits (e.g., improved foraging distribution) in 88% and 78% of the studies, respectively. No differences were found in grazing behaviors in most studies in which heritage breeds were compared to other heritage breeds or conventional with conventional breeds (n=6 and 15 studies, respectively). In the subset of studies coded with the intent of “foraging behavior,” heritage types traveled faster across a range of pasture sizes, which could indicate a capacity to seek high-quality nutrients while reducing trampling or overgrazing. Overall, our review suggests that breeds that have undergone moderate – low selection pressure display grazing behaviors that demonstrate adaptation to their respective native environments and may help producers meet production goals in similar environments in the face of a changing climate.