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The varied diet of Pineywoods Cattle is helping to improve ecosystem

Pineywoods cattle surrounded by lush grass straches to reach leaves on a tree
Surrounded by lush grass, Blackberry reaches for leaves

Some of the most enduring images Sue Meyer has of her farm is of the healthier ecosystem her Pineywoods cattle herd have helped establish at her farm in central North Carolina.

“Our Pineywoods herd has helped control invasive plants like kudzu, brambles and privet in the woods. The sunlight that now penetrates the canopy has encouraged native species growth on the forest floor and given trees room to grow. One of the reasons we chose Pinewoods was their ability to thrive on forages that other breeds cannot, but we didn’t expect them to eat such a wide variety!”

“Pineywoods especially love kudzu.” Sue adds “I have witnessed our bull practically stand on his toes - if he had toes - to reach kudzu and pull it off trees. What is even more surprising is that he didn’t eat any of it. The rest of the herd weren’t tall enough to reach that high and he specifically got it for them to eat. Our challenge now is not over grazing to preserve the kudzu for the hot summer months where it can grow a foot or two a day under the right conditions. Kudzu is very high in protein, averaging around 20%.”

Preferring a varied diet, Sue’s Pineywoods herd has found an ideal balance of forages on her farm.

"They are a perfect fit for the 37 acres they roam. About 40% is wooded and the rest is pasture. I think having the woods also reduces our hay bills during the winter. Last year we

Pineywoods cow standing in the woods
Woods previously chgoked with brambles and privet have been cleaned out by Pineywoods

ran 27 head during the winter months and fed 10 round bales. The privet stays green all year round and this helps supplement them during lean periods. We haven’t had the privet tested for protein and nutrients yet, it’s on our list.”

Curious about what impact the trees on her farm have on carbon sequestration, Sue found online tools that are used by urban planners and ecologists to determine the effect of trees on environment.

“Using iTree tools we have calculated that the trees on our farm sequester over 400 tons of CO2 every year, enough to offset methane emissions of 160 cattle. We need to find a way to reward farmers for sequestering carbon that meets or exceeds the income from logging. Heritage breeds like Pineywoods help reduce feed and veterinary expenses for farms because they thrive on diverse forages and are disease and parasite resistant. These two efforts may be part of a larger solution for farm solvency and reducing the effects of climate change.” Sue speculates.

“There is an ecosystem at play here where the wild and domestic coexist. I have observed our Pineywoods herd grazing alongside deer and they are often surrounded by wild birds that feed on dung beetles and other insects that they stir up as the graze through the pasture. We encourage biodiversity by not spraying any pesticides or herbicides, planting plants that attract insects and allowing some invasive like thistles to grow and provide food for gold finches. The results are encouraging, we have seen an increase in the diversity of butterflies and birds in the past 5 years."

“We need to reprioritize.” Sue states “Selecting livestock purely based on rapid growth rate and size minimizes biodiversity and threatens the sustainability of our food system. Selecting a breed of livestock that is suited to location is important. Pineywoods have a 500 year history in the hot and humid south eastern United States. Along with traits like diverse foraging behavior and disease resistance they also have strong mothering instincts and heat tolerance. Traits that have been maintained for centuries. Pineywoods and other endangered farm animals play an important part in history and the future of farming”


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