|CASTANO-SANCHEZ, JOSE - New Mexico State University
|Rotz, Clarence - Al
|MCINTOSH, MATTHEW - New Mexico State University
|TOLLE, CINDY - Consultant
|GIFFORD, GRAIG - New Mexico State University
|DUFF, GLENN - New Mexico State University
Submitted to: Agricultural Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/30/2023
Publication Date: 6/9/2023
Citation: Castano-Sanchez, J., Rotz, C.A., Mcintosh, M., Tolle, C., Gifford, G., Duff, G., Spiegal, S.A. 2023. Grass finishing of Criollo cattle can provide an environmentally preferred and cost effective meat supply chain from United States drylands. Agricultural Systems. 210. Article 103694. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2023.103694.
Interpretive Summary: The southwestern United States is projected to experience an increasingly warmer and drier climate, which will affect cattle production systems prevalent in the region. Adaptation strategies are needed that will not compromise environmental quality or profitability. Production systems using desert-adapted Rarámuri Criollo cattle and crossbreds of Criollo with Angus cattle were studied to determine potential environmental and economic benefits compared to the traditional Angus cattle production systems currently used in this region. Crossbred cattle production with grass finishing in the Southwest or in the Northern Plains outperformed Angus on most environmental variables with lower production costs but this option emitted more greenhouse gas than grain finishing of Angus cattle in both regions. Grass finishing in more temperate regions such as the Northern Plains may provide a more stable meat supply chain than grass finishing in the Southwest due to lower risk and less severe consequences of drought. As the climate in the southwestern region becomes drier in the future, use of Criollo cattle and their crossbreds can provide more sustainable cattle production systems for producing food in this region.
Technical Abstract: The southwestern United States is projected to experience an increasingly warmer and drier climate, which will affect cattle production systems prevalent in the region. Adaptation strategies are needed that will not compromise environmental quality or profitability. Options include the use of desert-adapted beef cattle biotypes, such as Rarámuri Criollo cattle, and crossbreds of Criollo with more traditional British breeds. Currently, most calves raised in the Southwest are grain finished often including feed from irrigated crops produced in the hydrologically threatened Ogallala Aquifer region. A viable alternative may be grass finishing with rainfed forage in the arid and semi-arid rangeland of the Southwest or in the temperate grasslands of the Northern Plains. We compared the environmental impacts and production costs of systems using traditional Angus cattle raised in the Southwest and grain-finished on feedlots in the Texas Panhandle to Criollo calves and crosses (Criollo x Angus) produced in this region and finished on grain or all-grass diets. Nine supply chain strategies were simulated using the Integrated Farm System Model to compare farm-gate life cycle intensities of greenhouse gas emissions, fossil energy use, nitrogen losses, blue water consumption and production costs using representative (appropriate soils, climate, and management) ranch and feedlot operations. For each finishing option (grass vs grain), Criollo x Angus cattle had the best environmental and economic outcomes, followed by pure Criollo and then Angus cattle. Crossbred cattle combined the desert adapted grazing behavior of Criollo cows and calves with heavier final carcasses from Angus genetics. Crossbred cattle with grass finishing in the Southwest or Northern Plains outperformed on most environmental variables as well as production costs compared to grain finishing, mostly due to reduced external input requirements (primarily feed). A downside for grassfed crossbreds was greater carbon emission compared to grain finishing due to greater methane emissions from high forage diets and an extended time to finish. Where soil carbon sequestration can be supported, sequestration can offset the greater greenhouse gas emission from grass-finished beef. Grass finishing in the Northern Plains may provide a more reliable meat supply chain than grass finishing in the Southwest due to the lower risk and less severe consequences of drought. Alternative beef supply chain options using Criollo cattle were found to be sustainable production systems that can be adopted by ranchers in the southwestern United States to deal with the dry climate.