Rangeland Resources and Grazing Animal Management
Cal Poly has long been a state leader in educating new generations of producers and technical specialists in the science and practice of managing livestock and the landscapes used by them in grazing operations. Cal Poly manages ranch lands totaling nearly 6,000 acres, primarily for beef cattle and sheep production. These lands include several of California's more important plant community types: annual grasslands (including some native perennial grass populations), oak woodlands, coastal scrub, meadow, and riparian areas. Management and stewardship of these lands have long been taught at Cal Poly and with the re-launch of a rangeland resource management program in 2009, students are having even more opportunities to learn about, and get experience in, the conservation and management of these lands. Cal Poly's following resources provide students with a unique set of opportunities to gain hands-on experience with the entire livestock production process while also applying sustainable land management practices.
Land: Cal Poly manages roughly 6,000 acres of rangeland, a little more than half of which is near its San Luis Obispo campus, and the rest at the Swanton Pacific Ranch in Santa Cruz County. Near campus are the "Western ranches" (Walters/Escuela and the Chorro Creek ranch) near Cuesta College, and the Serrano, Peterson, and Cheda ranches which adjoin the Cal Poly campus. The Rangeland Resources Program is currently undertaking an environmental assessment of these lands, to be followed by long-term monitoring and integration of that information into their use and management.
Local Land Management and Conservation Networks: The Rangeland Resources Program has established relationships with a wide variety of private, state, federal, and non-governmental organizations with interests in land management and conservation. Through this network, students have many opportunities to gain experience in land and livestock management. They can assist in conservation projects and activities connected to Cal Poly's lands with local ranchers, conservation groups like Resource Conservation Districts (Coastal San Luis RCD, Upper Salinas/Las Tablas RCD), the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, The Nature Conservancy, state agencies such as the California Dept. of Fish & Game, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the University of California Cooperative Extension Service, and federal agencies such as the Los Padres National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management (Carrizo Plain National Monument), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Animals: Cal Poly students have many opportunities to gain experience working with beef cattle, sheep, goats, and horses in a variety of different ways. Enterprise projects are the best way to gain initial experience, and are open for all students. The following are some available livestock enterprises:
Beef cattle: Bull Test, Heifer Calving, Artificial Insemination, Escuela/Commercial Cow-Calf, Bull Reproductive Soundness, Swanton Pacific Ranch Stocker Cattle, Halter Breaking
Goats: Vegetation management
Equine: Breeding, Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred
It is the goal of all the grazing animal programs at Cal Poly to teach not only animal biology and management, but also expose students to the science and practice of managing the landscapes and ecosystems that are used to produce these animals. To accomplish this, students learn fundamental land stewardship principles, and can proceed to learning methods of assessing environmental health, and the processes of planning towards specific objectives and measuring progress in managed areas over time.
Academic Programs: The Rangeland Resource Management Minor provides students with a foundational set of courses necessary for topics in rangeland science and management practices. The minor curriculum ties together courses in animal science, soil science, natural resource management, and wildlife management to meet the academic requirements for eligibility to take the California "Certified Range Management" licensing exam. Students signed up for the minor are also offered opportunities to participate in professional meetings, projects, internships, and other activities, including the program's ongoing assessment and monitoring of rangeland condition on university owned/managed lands.
There is also an enterprise called Rangeland Planning (under ASCI 490) that puts students to work in teams on planning projects for local ranches, public lands or conservation lands held by other organizations. This work can entail a variety of things, from investigating scientific literature for management or scientific practice recommendations, to developing management plans, to going to the field to verifying the impacts of management practices.
General: With nearly two-thirds of California and of the Earth's surface being dominated by "rangeland" type ecosystems, grazing management of these lands has the potential to have far-reaching impacts, for both commercial and environmental purposes. In many western states, including California, domestic grazing animals play a number of important social roles. Most people understand that they convert vegetation into nutritious meat and milk products (and fiber too). Increasingly, they produce industrial and pharmaceutical products as well. And, of course, they provide for recreational, athletic, and educational opportunities. Not everyone appreciates that these animals also serve as tools for environmental management. Like the use of any other tool, the effect of grazing animals on landscapes depends wholly on their management. When managed properly, livestock can be used to achieve a variety of useful environmental objectives, including sustaining forage production, minimizing soil erosion, improving water quality, reducing the risk of wildfire ignition and spread, slowing the establishment and spread of invasive weeds, and improving habitats for sensitive wildlife and native plant species. See the links below to some of the major organizations helping preserve rangelands and promote managed grazing practices.
Cal Poly Animal Science Department
Rangeland Resources Program
Rangeland Resource Management Minor
Swanton Pacific Ranch
Society for Range Management
California-Pacific Section (chapter)
California Rangeland Conservation Coalition
Forests and Rangelands (USDA-DOI partnership)
USFS Rangelands Page
Agronomic and Grazing Resources
National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA): Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management
American Forage and Grassland Council
Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI)
Grazing Lands Team (NRCS/USDA)
Other Professional Resources
University of California Cooperative Extension
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
California Native Grass Association
California Native Plant Society
The Wildlife Society
Soil & Water Conservation Society
American Society of Animal Science
Coordinated Resource Management