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In this old TED conf., Allan Savory, and in this rather newer other here, Joel Salatin are quite saying the same thing as a tentative to mitigate the effect of burning fossil fuels:

We should use cattle at very large scale to help re-store CO2 into the soil.

  • Does this process seem realistic?
  • Are there any documented studies or simulations out there?
  • Are there large scale projects of cattle driven CO2 storage going on on Earth?

Edit on how this is supposed to work according to the "Savory Institute"

Holistic Management [HM]

  • The idea is to limit the places where the cattle can go, in a kind of "rotation" plan. This leave space for the grass to re-grow
  • Trampling and cattle dung help fertilize the soil, and when cattle goes to the next lot, flourishing nature is allowed to grow, store water and CO2.
  • HM restores grasslands. Healthy grasslands lead to carbon sequestration, drought resilience, food security, and financially viable communities.

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Both of the links you shared are important videos to watch for anyone interested in learning about the process and should be considered required viewing material in classrooms where agriculture is taught. The process works well and can be applied to other kinds of livestock as well. The "chicken tractor" is a popular method that employs similar techniques and is frequently used to provide free range eggs and meat at a premium price making the efforts much more economically viable. Pigs, sheep, goats, and alpacas are also used, sometimes in rotating combinations, with good results in most cases.

The process is primarily used to increase the productivity of soils, thereby maximizing the profit that can be obtained when pasture is in short supply. The increased sequestration of carbon is a pleasant side effect, but is very seldom the primary goal. Where I live in Arizona it can sometimes take a hundred acres to raise a single cow/calf pair, so herds are left to roam on large expanses of overgrazed range land. Additional food and water is supplied when the poor beasts get too thin to manage on their own.

When a large ranch is sold, the ownership of a certain amount of land is usually combined with the renewable lease contracts for a much larger area of land that actually belongs to the public (or the government if you lack sufficient political involvement to consider yourself a part of the decision making process).

If you own land around here, and most parts of the Southwest USA, any errant cow or herd can legally visit and do pretty much whatever he (or she) wants to do regardless of what land management technique you have planned or employed. Permanent regulation quality fences must be constructed and maintained before you can have any hope of getting that mob of voracious roaming hamburgers arrested and into court. You can move your little electric fences around faithfully every day, but if your property is not entirely enclosed, well, it's pretty much game over.

The livestock sustainability of land is measured in animal units, so in arid regions where the animal unit acreage is very large, there is a proportionate increase in the cost of fencing or the cost of moving fencing around.

My strategy to deal with this might not scale well globally, but it seems workable enough to me based on the conditions I face. I purchased an entire canyon, 100 acres from ridge to valley, nearly surrounded by a mile and a half (2.4 km) of perfect regulation perimeter fence. The value of the fence was greater than the purchase price of the land which cost me around 80 USD per acre (total of less than 6k Euros and 600 EU per year taxes).

It's relatively easy for me to keep the cursed cows off my land during the restorative phases (probably over 99% of the time), but when I am there and I can see that it is time to cycle the mob, all I have to do is open the gate and let them gorge themselves, then run them off before I leave. The neighboring ranchers won't complain if I'm fattening their cattle on my dime, and I won't have to purchase and maintain a herd while I reap the benefits I really want from them. Pressures from the deer that can hop the fence will maintain the system when I can't be there to manage the local gluttons.

I want my waterholes to fuel photosynthesis in my grasses, shrubs and trees, thereby sequestering carbon in the vegetation and in the soil. I'm not interested in watering cows for McDonalds. Nevertheless, I can adopt them for a few days out of the year so that they can live a more meaningful life and make this planet a better place to live. This perspective helps me to understand why the Hindu folks consider cows to be sacred beings.

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  • Hi Scott, what would you answer to this article, clearly going against what you say? – J. Chomel Dec 16 '19 at 9:09
  • Half of my canyon is not accessible to cattle at all. This gives me a valuable opportunity to compare unspoiled virgin land to degraded/restored holistic acres. I believe it will be clear that both portions will demonstrate how immensely preferable they are to neighboring ranches where everything is chomped down to dirt. It's ugly and heartbreaking, but I believe we can do something about it. – Scott Tramposch Dec 17 '19 at 21:42
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Cattle have become unpopular because they have been accused of farting methane. This is the main answer to your question. However in ecologically sound pastures cattle do restore CO2 to the soil, and they probably fart much less. If their "emissions" have been measured on cattle fed on a single species of newly sown grass, or on silage, they would not be the same as "emissions" from cattle living in more natural conditions. A second important point is that in order to restore CO2 to the soil the cow dung has to lie on the land and be buried naturally, and relatively rapidly, with the help of dung flies and/or dung beetles. Where there have not been ungulates on the land, or where the land has been poisoned by chemicals these insects are sometimes not present, which presents a big problem nowadays. However if these natural conditions can be met the saving on not interfering with the land by tractors and chemical sprays far outways any possible deleterious effects of cow "emissions".

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  • 3
    Nice answer, but it should could do with some citations. Can you add links so that we know that it is more than one person's opinion? – user2451 Oct 14 '19 at 7:21
  • The majority of cattle methane emissions are actually from belching, not farting. See, for example en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enteric_fermentation – andyyy Dec 17 '19 at 8:33
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I found various advice on the subject. Set aside the fact that there is no real proven benefits for GHG emissions compared to a move towards more veganism, the main concern about this is its impact on the biodiversity it destroys (and sadly, biodiversity appears to be a even more concerning issue than climate change).

The main reference I read of is in International Journal of Biodiversity article Holistic Management[HM]: Misinformation on the Science of Grazed Ecosystems

Ecologically, the application of HM principles of trampling and intensive foraging are as detrimental to plants, soils, water storage, and plant productivity as are conventional grazing systems. Contrary to claims made that HM will reverse climate change, the scientific evidence is that global greenhouse gas emissions are vastly larger than the capacity of worldwide grasslands and deserts to store the carbon emitted each year.

The study is said to raise problems that seems logical:

Additionally, this review found that holistic management approaches actually result in:

  • Reduced water infiltration into the soil
  • Increased erosion
  • Reduced forage production
  • Reduced soil organic matter and nitrogen
  • Reduced mineral cycling
  • Increased soil bulk density

You may read more development in this vegan-oriented article.

So what remains to my mind is the idea of being in the middle of a conflict between pro-meat and vegans...

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