Secondary tropical dry forests are important to cattle ranchers in Northwestern Costa Rica
MetadataShow full item record
In dry regions of Central America, the presence of trees and forests in cattle ranches benefits cattle, as it provides shade and feed to cattle herds during the dry seasons, when pastures are dry. Cattle browsing in forests as supplementation has been little studied, and we do not know how frequent this practice is, how it fits in a farm’s management plan and what impacts it has on the ecological integrity of the forest. We conducted a set of 43 semi-structured exploratory interviews in farms of the Liberia county, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, to contribute to filling those knowledge gaps and to assess rural knowledge concerning this practice. Farmers in Liberia suffered from the loss of profitability of the cattle industry and were affected by droughts, fire and cattle theft. Cattle browsing in forest was used by 69% of farms, mostly between the months from March to May. No type of farm or supplementation practice was associated with forest browsing, as the practice spanned all types of farm structure and management. We could not isolate supplementation profiles, due to the great diversity of farm managements in the region. We did find a difference in farm structure and supplementation types between ranches in the plains and ranches in the slopes of the volcanic cordillera, which was possibly due to historical, edaphic or institutional reasons. The benefits from forest browsing most cited by farmers were related to animal welfare, and most cited drawbacks were related to the complications that this practice brought to farm management. We hypothesize that the decision to put cattle in forest or not is not entirely related to supplementation strategies, but rather to the farmer choosing between animal well-being and simplification of farm management. Farmers’ knowledge of cattle behavior and feeding preferences in forest was usually limited to observed behavior at the edge of forest, and very variable between farms. We recommend a more detailed follow-up on this exploratory study with an in-depth focus on supplementation types, animal behavior in the forest, browse selectivity and impact of the animal, as well as a study comparing browsed forests with protected forests in order to determine the ecological impact of cattle on forest structure, composition, diversity and functioning. This study will help decide if cattle browsing in forests can be a good example of ecosystem-based adaptation, or if alternative supplementation types must be fostered by agricultural institutions to reduce browsing in forests. In any case, this research showed that forest browsing must always be taken into account when studying ranching in dry regions.