A New Way to Predict Grazing Cattle Weight Gain on Rangelands From Satellite Imagery

by Maribel Alonso, USDA Agricultural Research Service
December 15, 2021

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) developed a unique approach to using satellite imagery to predict cattle weight gain on rangelands. By fusing multiple images over a period of time, scientists were able to monitor how forage quality changes over space and time in rangelands within the shortgrass steppe, and how this relates to the weight gain of free-ranging cattle throughout the summer grazing season.

Managing the grazing season in rangelands can be challenging due to high variability in temperature and rainfall over time. From a manager’s perspective, it is essential to know when and where forage production and quality are changing to optimize free-range livestock weight gain and meet other environmental objectives. This is not just about chasing forage quantity (total amount of vegetation biomass); it is also about looking for the highest-quality forage throughout the season.

“This study is probably the first-time high-quality datasets have been used to predict cattle weight gain directly from satellite imagery,” said Sean Kearney, Post Doc Research Associate in Fort Collins, CO.

In the study published in Ecological Applications, scientists used the satellite images, along with field observations from 40 different pastures grazed over a period of 10 years, to predict the performance of cattle grazing in Eastern Colorado throughout the summer season.  The study site, the Central Plains Experimental Range, is a Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network location.

Keep reading: https://www.ars.usda.gov/news-events/news/research-news/2021/a-new-way-to-predict-grazing-cattle-weight-gain-on-rangelands-from-satellite-imagery/

Read the Ecological Applications paper: https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/eap.2503