Long-term declines in dietary nutritional quality for North American cattle Academic Article uri icon


  • 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd. With over 1 billion cattle in the world as well as over 2 billion sheep, goats and buffalo, these animals contribute approximately 15% of the global human protein supply while producing a significant proportion of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and global nutrient fluxes. Despite increasing reliance on grazers for protein production globally, the future of grazers in a changing world is uncertain. Factors such as increased prevalence of drought, rising atmospheric CO 2 concentrations, and sustained nutrient export all have the potential to reduce cattle performance by reducing the nutritional quality of forage. However, there are no analyses to quantify changes in diet quality, subsequent impact on cattle performance and cost of supplementation necessary to mitigate any predicted protein deficiency. To quantify the trajectory of nutritional stress in cattle, we examined more than 36 000 measurements of dietary quality taken over 22 yr for US cattle. Here, we show that standardizing for spatial and temporal variation in drought and its effects on forage quality, cattle have been becoming increasingly stressed for protein over the past two decades, likely reducing cattle weight gain. In economic terms, the replacement costs of reduced protein provision to US cattle are estimated to be the equivalent of $1.9 billion annually. Given these trends, nitrogen enrichment of grasslands might be necessary if further reduction in protein content of forages is to be prevented.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 42.364

author list (cited authors)

  • Craine, J. M., Elmore, A., & Angerer, J. P.

citation count

  • 25

complete list of authors

  • Craine, Joseph M||Elmore, Andrew||Angerer, Jay P

publication date

  • April 2017