Seasonal divergence of landscape use by heritage and conventional cattle on desert rangeland

TitleSeasonal divergence of landscape use by heritage and conventional cattle on desert rangeland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsSpiegal S., Estell RE, Cibils AF, James D.K, H. Peinetti R, Browning DM, Romig KB, Gonzalez AL, Lyons A, Bestelmeyer BT
JournalRangeland Ecology & Management
Start Page590
Date Published07/2019
ARIS Log Number357640
KeywordsGPS monitoring, grazing distribution, Heritage genetics, phenology, Raramuri Criollo, state-and-transition models

Adopting livestock with heritage genetics may improve chances for achieving both agriculture and conservation goals on rangelands with harsh, challenging conditions. In the Chihuahuan Desert, preliminary evidence suggests that heritage Raramuri Criollo exploit a greater variety of range resources than conventional cattle. Accordingly, adopting Raramuri Criollo may help sustain vegetation and soils as well as agricultural production. We used GPS collars to track Angus x Hereford and Raramuri Criollo cows in a 1535-ha pasture in southern New Mexico in June - December 2008. As predicted based on past research, home range sizes of Raramuri Criollo exceeded those of Angus x Hereford during seasons with low forage availability - by 31.4 ± 6.5 ha during Pregreenup and 17.2 ± 6.5 ha during Drydown - but sizes converged during more productive seasons (Greenup 1, Greenup 2). Angus x Hereford allotted more daily time to resting, with the difference most pronounced during Drydown (71.1 ± 21.1 min day-1). Angus x Hereford had twice as many hotspots of use (locations with multiple visits of long duration), with seasonal timing and location corresponding with distribution patterns known to impact desirable natural resources. Raramuri Criollo more strongly preferred the Bare/Forbs ecological state and avoided the Shrubland ecological state - with timing that possibly signals an ability to utilize nutritious forbs on open ground despite summer heat. Results are consistent with predictions that compared with conventional cattle, Raramuri Criollo have greater daily mobility and wider spatial distribution during dry seasons. Although not directly measured, results also suggest that the heritage breed has superior heat tolerance and lower impact on desirable natural resources. These findings provide evidence that Raramuri Criollo can support sustainable livestock production in the Chihuahuan Desert, but direct measurements of profitability and environmental effects are needed before adoption can be recommended widely.