Herd of cattle grazing on Brown’s Ranch in North Dakota.
Paul Brown / Brown's Ranch

Herd of cattle grazing on Brown’s Ranch in North Dakota.

Managed Grazing

Support SinksLand SinksShift Agriculture Practices
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
Trillion $US
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
Trillion $US
Net Profit
Managed grazing involves carefully controlling livestock density and timing and intensity of grazing. Compared with conventional pasture practices, it can improve the health of grassland soils, sequestering carbon.

Solution Summary*

Grazing animals create extraordinary environments—witness the Serengeti plains and tall grass prairies of the United States. Where original grasslands are still intact, they are abundant lands with carbon-rich soils. They benefit from the activity of migratory herds that cluster tightly for protection; munch grasses to the crown; disturb the soil with their hooves, intermixing their urine and feces; and then move on.

Managed grazing imitates these herbivores, addressing two key variables: how long livestock grazes a specific area and how long the land rests before animals return. Three managed-grazing techniques that improve soil health, carbon sequestration, water retention, and forage productivity:

  1. Improved continuous grazing adjusts standard grazing practices and decreases the number of animals per acre.
  2. Rotational grazing moves livestock to fresh paddocks or pastures, allowing those already grazed to recover.
  3. Adaptive multi-paddock grazing shifts animals through smaller paddocks in quick succession, after which the land is given time to recover.

Improved grazing can be very good for the land and sequester from 0.5 to 3 metric tons of carbon per acre. However, it does not address the methane emissions generated by ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, etc.), which ferment cellulose in their digestive systems and break it down with methane-emitting microbes.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown

By enhancing carbon sequestration compared to standard grazing practices, this solution can sequester 16.4-26 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050. However, this does not reduce the 10 gigatons of methane that are emitted on that grazing land today. Growth in adoption of managed grazing practices would need to rise from 71.6 million hectares to 502.1–749.02 million hectares over 30 years. Financial lifetime returns are US$2.1–3.4 trillion for net profit and US$640.8–1010.8 billion for lifetime operational cost, on a US$33.6–52.9 billion initial investment.