How heritage breeds could rescue ranching

A team of scientists and ranchers are studying Criollo cattle with a mission to think of solutions for agricultural producers threatened by climate change.

(Stuart Ruckman and James A. Martin | The Times-Independent) A Criollo cow at the Dugout Ranch in Indian Creek.

Ranching has a problem. Specifically, ranching on the Colorado Plateau: the region was identified by the Guardian in 2022 as a hotspot for climate change, meaning its temperatures are rising even faster than those across the U.S. The heat brings with it increased aridity, plant die-offs and accelerating erosion.

“We have a shorter cool season than we used to,” said Matthew Redd, who helms the Dugout Ranch in Indian Creek. He said the area is now warm for three extra months each year, and its plant species are changing as a result.

As a ranch manager, Redd makes his living tending to herds of cattle that graze in Indian Creek and adjacent canyons. He’s also in the midst of an experiment with the ranch’s Canyonlands Research Center that aims to ensure he can keep ranching the land for years to come.

“We’re trying to come up with solutions for agricultural producers to adapt to climate change and keep the natural resource they depend on healthy,” Redd said, “so we can still produce food and protect the integrity of that natural resource.”

Enter the Criollo cattle: a breed smaller and hardier than their conventional Angus brethren, and possibly more suited to hotter, drier landscapes. They’re known as a “heritage breed,” meaning they predate industrial agriculture and may prove more resilient to the Colorado Plateau’s changing environment.

Read the full story from The Times-Independent.


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