Cattle do not Replace Bison
Domestic livestock (cattle) cannot replace bison extirpated from North American
mountains and plains due to significant differences in diet, grazing, water
use, movements, and predator defense. Most varieties of livestock evolved in
moist Eurasian woodlands and are poorly adapted to the arid West. They have
a much different, and greater impact on native ecosystems than buffalo.
- Cattle use more water, spend more time in riparian areas, and are less mobile
than bison. As a result, watersheds and riparian
zones are severely degraded by livestock grazing in the West.
- Bison feed in one place for a few days, then move on. This allows vegetation
to recover from grazing. Cattle tend to "camp out" in the same location for
weeks, sometimes grazing native shrubs, grasses and forbs to bare dirt, causing
soil erosion and creating conditions for weed
- Bison are able to survive on available native forage, while cattle require
extra feed to survive drought, degraded rangelands, and northern winters.
- Cattle are poorly adapted to dealing with native predators, being rather
slow and unintelligent. Bison retain their wild instincts for avoiding and
fending off bears, wolves and other carnivores that they have co-evolved with.
- Wild bison functioned within their ecosystem in ways that livestock do not.
Their bodies served as food for predators and were scavenged by ravens, coyotes,
and magpies. What was left of their carcasses decomposed and was returned
to the soil. Bison were a part of, and contributed to, a great diversity of
life. Livestock, on the other hand, represent a large net loss of energy and
biomass to western grasslands, as their bodies are removed for human consumption
Information on this page is adapted or quoted from "Myth: Cattle Have Replaced
the Bison," in Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction
of the American West (p. 11).
For more information, see "Where Bison Once
Roamed: The Impacts of Cattle and Sheep on Native Herbivores," in Welfare
Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West .