Land Management through Grazing
Rangelands are a type of land on which the natural vegetation is dominated by grasses and shrubs and the land is managed as a natural ecosystem.
Prairie rangeland supports agricultural activity through the grazing of livestock. These grasslands also provide habitat for native plants and animals, and support a broad range of economic benefits including recreational activity related to hunting and eco-tourism, and provision of genetic stock for biological research and the development of neutraceuticals.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada manages 915,000 hectares of rangeland within 85 community pastures in Western Canada. Approximately 85% of this land base is native rangeland. The goal is to preserve both the productivity and biodiversity of this native grassland by maintaining it in good range condition. Good native range condition is classified as having 50-75% of the biomass made up of the original vegetation.
As a method of documenting and monitoring the resource use on the pastures, data on range condition, range condition trends, species composition, and a general inventory of rangeland resources is collected. This information is used in combination with pasture developments, historic livestock utilization, soil type and associated moisture conditions to calculate the carrying capacity of each pasture. Annual adjustments are made to stocking rates depending on local pasture conditions. During periods of drought, stocking rates are reduced to levels that will ensure the rangeland does not become overgrazed.
Most of the native grassland on the Prairies has been cultivated or re-seeded to tame forage species but not all of these lands have shown long-term productivity increases. It is estimated that more than half of Prairie rangeland is in less than good condition. Good condition is the goal of many rangeland managers. The benefits of improved range management include: conservation of biodiversity, reduced soil degradation and potential for increased carbon sequestration. Research has shown that improvements in range condition by one class can increase livestock carrying capacity of native rangeland by as much as 25%.
Grazing management varies regionally depending on traditional practices, vegetation, soils and climate. Management also changes over time as new knowledge, practices, incentive programs and technology are adopted by producers.
In conjunction with the Census of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Statistics Canada conduct a survey to measure changing trends in agricultural practice. Consult the report Grazing Livestock Management: Farm Environmental Management Survey (FEMS) 2006 for more details.
Seeded Pasture Management
Whether managed as pasture for the long term or in rotation with annual crops, seeded pastures are an important component of the grazing industry. Not only do these lands provide fodder for livestock seeded pastures are also important for the many other ecological functions they perform on the landscape such as wildlife habitat, regulation of flow and quality of water, storing and sequestering carbon, and protection of fragile soils from erosion. The key to receiving these benefits is maintaining this resource in a healthy state.
Native Pasture Management
Native pastures, or rangeland, are an essential part of the beef cattle industry in Canada. These lands are principally used for livestock grazing, primarily beef. Rangeland is also important for the many other ecological functions that it performs on the landscape. Its value as habitat for wildlife, especially species at risk is well known. However, rangelands also functions to regulate flow and quality of water, store and sequester carbon, protect fragile soils from erosion and are an important repository of natural genomes. The key to receiving these benefits is maintaining this resource in a healthy state.