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Updated: January 23, 2023 @ 12:56 am
(The Center Square) – Fifty to 60 years ago, when today’s older farmers were growing up, there were many more bobolinks, eastern meadowlarks and Henslow’s sparrows in northern Illinois.
The disappearance of pastureland and the decline in hay fields accounts for the sharp decline in the grassland bird populations.
John Strauser, a farm researcher, studied livestock grazing when he was in graduate school at the University of Illinois. Strauser told The Center Square that grazing cattle and dairy herds on pastureland restores habitat that the birds need.
“Cattle grazing and dairy-cow pasturing create desirable habitat conditions for various kinds of birds,” Strauser said in his graduate school study Returning Marginal Lands to Forage Production.
Birds need a complex landscape that has short grasses and long grasses and different species and different fauna and flora, Strauser said.
Farmers are aware of the disappearing numbers of birds, and they are enthusiastic about doing what they can, he said. Strauser has found that farmers are open to discussing the benefits of grazing and foraging.
The high cost of inputs has put grazing and cover crops into more farm conversations, Strauser said.
“The cost of inputs, including fertilizer and feed, would go dramatically down under a grazing system,” Strauser said.
Strauser is convinced that the United States can meet its beef production needs on grass, he said.
“It will be different than the way we do it under our conventional confinement system,” he said. “I don’t want people to think it is a one for one swap. It is a system change.”
Farmers are measured and conservative in their practices, said Strauser, who talks to farmers for a living. Established livestock farming practices are well-entrenched, he added. Yet Strauser finds farmers are intrigued by the potential benefits of expanded pasture grazing and foraging.
On one farm that Strauser studied, a farmer who grazed his dairy heifers on pasture saved almost 15 cents a head per heifer per day, Strauser said.
“We have pretty strong reason to believe that the profit margin for the farmers would go up under a grazing system,” Strauser said.
Strauser is eager to talk more about the benefits of grazing and foraging livestock to environmentalists, he said.
“Well-meaning people have pointed out problems in the livestock system and there is a misconception that livestock is bad for the environment,” he said. “Grazing and foraging is a way that livestock can benefit the environment.”
Originally published on thecentersquare.com, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.