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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #392512

Research Project: Science and Technologies for the Sustainable Management of Western Rangeland Systems

Location: Range Management Research

Title: Diet selection of raramuri criollo and angus x hereford crossbred cattle in the Chihuahuan Desert

item Estell, Richard - Rick
item NYAMURYEKUNG'E, SHELEMIA - New Mexico State University
item James, Darren
item Spiegal, Sheri
item CIBILS, ANDRES - New Mexico State University
item Gonzalez, Alfredo
item MCINTOSH, MATTHEW - New Mexico State University
item Romig, Kirsten

Submitted to: Journal of Arid Environments
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/20/2022
Publication Date: 7/4/2022
Citation: Estell, R.E., Nyamuryekung'e, S., James, D.K., Spiegal, S.A., Cibils, A.F., Gonzalez, A.L., McIntosh, M.M., Romig, K.B. 2022. Diet selection of Raramuri Criollo and Angus x Hereford crossbred cattle in the Chihuahuan Desert. Journal of Arid Environments. 205. Article 104823.

Interpretive Summary: Ranchers face unpredicable and often inadequate forage production on southwestern rangelands because of low and variable rainfall. One strategy currently being examined to cope with shrubby landscapes and harsh conditions is the use of nontraditional cattle breeds. We are currently evaluating a biotype from northern Mexico called Raramuri Criollo. These cattle are small framed and have been found to travel farther from water and use areas that more common breeds do not use, but it is unknown whether their diets are different. We compared the amount of different plant species in their diet to desert adapted Angus x Hereford crossbreds typical of the area. In general, diets for the two types of cattle were similar. Dominant species consumed by both breeds included fourwing saltbush, hog potato, vine mesquite, plains bristlegrass, dropseeds, tobosa, and black grama. Diets of Raramuri Criollo contained more mesquite and yucca, and less black grama. Angus x Hereford crossbreds ate about twice as much black grama (~8% vs. 4%), which could be important because black grama has important conservation implications in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Technical Abstract: Strategies are needed to help producers cope with unpredictable forage production associated with low and variable precipitation patterns on arid rangelands, particularly if warming trends continue as projected. One option is to identify cattle biotypes compatible with less productive shrubby landscapes. One such biotype is the Raramuri Criollo (RC) from the Copper Canyon of northern Mexico. This small framed animal exhibits behaviors associated with travel that allow it to exploit vegetation at greater distance from water, although it is unknown whether RC have dietary preferences that differ from breeds of European origin typically raised in the southwestern U.S. We examined diet selection of RC vs. desert adapted Angus x Hereford (AH) crossbreds typical of the region using DNA metabarcoding to determine the proportion of plant species in fecal samples. Fecal samples were collected from 10 cows of each breed in two adjacent pastures during two seasons (growing and dormancy; four weeks per season) for three consecutive years. Dominant plant species in fecal samples of cattle across breed were Atriplex canescens (fourwing saltbush), Hoffmannseggia glauca (hog potato), Hopia obtusa (vine mesquite), Setaria leucopila (plains bristlegrass), Sporobolus spp. (S. contractus, S. flexuosus, and S. giganteus), Pleuraphis mutica (tobosa), and Bouteloua eriopoda (black grama) –consistent with previous studies in the region using different techniques. Only a few differences were detected between breeds. Compared to AH, fecal samples from RC contained a higher proportion of mesquite and Yucca spp. (P < 0.07) and less Ephedra spp. (P < 0.06). The only grass species that differed between breeds was black grama (P < 0.05), with AH fecal samples containing about twice as much as RC cows (~8% vs. 4%). This finding could have important implications for conservation of black grama in the Chihuahuan Desert.