Grazing and Paddock Finishing for Beef in Brazil
Brazil is the world’s largest beef exporter. The growth of its beef sector has come under criticism for being a driver of illegal deforestation in the Amazon region. In an effort to balance environmental protection, stop deforestation while still growing its beef production, cattle farmers are now encouraged to boost meat output per hectare of land. One key strategy is to encourage farmers to rotate herds in smaller paddocks that boost pasture growth and further increase productivity alongside forest protection.
At FAI’s 420 acres (170 ha) farm near Jaboticabal in São Paulo State we are operating a cutting edge high-welfare paddock finishing unit for beef. The farm is divided into forest reserves, pastures and paddocks that are grazed by 120 beef cattle (Nelore and Angus breed). It is also equipped with modern training facilities that allow FAI do Brazil to conduct practical on-the-farm training and outreach events for farmers and food company executives.
Together with the animal welfare research group ETCO (www.grupoetco.org.br) we have designed a system that provides 50m2 per animal and has mobile troughs, fences and drinkers which allowing more flexible use of the land than traditional cattle finishing units. Animals graze pasture, which benefits rumen health and is cheaper than grain and the lower stocking density reduces the risk of soil degradation and water runoff. Access to pasture is also broadly regarded to be beneficial to cattle’s welfare as it allows the animals the freedom to express normal behaviors including ranging, grazing and herding (the 4th of the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s (1992) five freedoms). Bovines are originally woodland animals suggesting that shelter and shade provided by trees are important to them. This can be facilitated in a paddock based system through integrating silvo-pasture and tree planting as part of the land management.
Research is underway to demonstrate the impact and effectiveness of good grazing management of cattle and other ruminants to minimize overgrazing and enhance soil fertility, moisture retention and carbon sequestration.