Audubon Conservation Ranching program
- How could this program benefit me?
- Audubon enlists agency partners and livestock production specialists to provide technical assistance to participating ranchers in transitioning to practices that meet program protocols while improving forage quantity/quality over time. Participants may get priority enrollment in some cost-share incentive opportunities. For those that direct-market their cattle, the program can expand market exposure and provide more product differentiation. A known conservation brand will help tell your story about your operations and the habitat improvement you are making happen for grassland birds.
- What’s the premium?
- The retailer and consumers will ultimately determine the premium. Market trends tell us there is a precedent for the premium and we are working to ensure products from this program are well positioned. We expect our certification seal to bring a broad market appeal that should enhance demand by consumers that want options for beef that is sustainably raised and benefits wildlife habitat.
- What’s required of me?
- Participating producers agree to adopt program standards and implement a Habitat Management Plan developed in cooperation with Audubon or an agency partner. That plan outlines steps to build better habitat for local birds while being responsive to practical farm management considerations and the economic needs of the operation. These plans include a practical implementation schedule and set realistic targets for annual improvement. The plan also outlines programs to help defray the cost of many habitat management practices.
- What are your program standards?
- To become certified, a ranch must meet a set of Habitat Management protocols, some of which are developed specifically for each region. The ranch must also meet our program protocols related to Forage and Feeding, Animal Health & Welfare, and Environmental Sustainability. Notably, feedlots are not allowed, and hormones and antibiotics are strictly prohibited. Program standards were developed by producers, cattle industry experts and wildlife biologists to strike a meaningful balance among conservation, animal husbandry and economic priorities. The full set of ACR program standards is available at Audubon.org/ranching.
- How long does enrolling in the program take?
- It usually it takes 6 months to have your ranch operation certified from the moment you decide to enroll.
- Does this cost me anything?
- There are no program participation fees at this time. Costs may be incurred in the development of infrastructure related to the transition to a new grazing approach. Where possible,
- What are the underlying principals behind Audubon’s protocols?
- The program is based on the concept that consumers can have a direct impact on land management through their food purchasing decisions. Grazing is an important ecological process on grasslands, and that cattle can be raised humanely on open grassland without hormones, antibiotics, or environmental impacts. We believe that such practices can be expanded to encompass millions of acres when conscious consumers choose beef grazed on Audubon-certified ranches.
- Do you have a specific grazing system you require?
- In general, the program promotes ranch management practices that provide habitat for grassland birds. For each ranch, a specific Habitat Management Plan is developed that will benefit target grassland bird species for that particular ecoregion. Typically, these plans include some type of regenerative grazing approach that results in a diversity of grassland vegetation across a ranch.
- Can I exit the program at any time?
- Yes, the program is entirely voluntary.
- Would my ranch qualify for your program?
CONSUMERS AND CONSERVATIONISTS
- What are your program standards?
- Program certification is achieved by following a set of program standards in four areas:
1. HABITAT MANAGEMENT---Each farm or ranch must be managed for bird habitat according to a set of protocols, including general habitat protocols that apply to all sites, regional protocols, and ranch-specific management requirements. Each rancher will adopt a Habitat Management Plan that is uniquely developed for their operation to address site-specific habitat goals and bird conservation opportunities.
2. FORAGE AND FEEDING---Livestock must be able to freely graze open grasslands. The protocols prohibit the use of antibiotics and animal byproducts, and seek to minimize grain-based feed supplementation. No feedlots are allowed.
3. ANIMAL HEALTH AND WELFARE---Program participants must demonstrate a commitment to properly caring for livestock by adhering to livestock production methods that reflect best practices for animal health and welfare. Any mistreatment of animals is not tolerated in this program.
4. ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY--- Pesticides are restricted, and waterways are protected from contamination to ensure that ranching practices result in cleaner streams, healthier soils, more pollinators for plants, and more carbon stored in plants and soil.
The full set of ACR program standards is available at Audubon.org/ranching.
- How do I know if this product came from an Audubon certified ranch that is following the standards?
- The presence of Audubon’s certification seal indicates that the product came from a certified ranch. Audubon has enlisted Food Alliance as a 3rd-party verifier. Their ongoing audit system assures consumers that products from Audubon-certified ranches meet program standards.
- Why is Audubon certifying habitat?
- Grassland bird populations have drastically declined as intact grassland habitat has been converted or degraded. The vast majority of grasslands across the U.S. are privately owned working lands. Audubon believes that this market-based approach can enhance grassland bird habitat on millions of acres by incentivizing ranchers to manage their land to benefit birds.
- How is this beef different from other grass fed or organic beef products?
- The Audubon certification is centered on habitat conservation, and our program protocols ensure that certified ranches are managed to provide benefits to grassland birds. Many of the beef products labeled with the Audubon certification seal will also be grassfed/grass-finished and/or organic. Consumers should read labels and select specific products or brands that meet their desires.
- Is this beef purely grass fed? If not, why not?
- While our protocols require animals to be grazed on open pastures, we do not require them to be 100% grassfed/grass finished. However, many of the products carrying the Audubon certification will be grassfed/grass finished, depending on the ranch or brand.
- Why does your program allow for grain feeding?
- In some parts of the country and in certain times of the year, grass forage can be unavailable. Audubon seeks to include as many ranches as possible to improve bird habitat, so some limited supplemental feeding on pasture is allowed, as long as grass and other forage is the primary source of feed. Feedlots are never allowed.
- Where can I buy this product?
- You can find links to all retailers at Audubon.org/ranching. Our initial retailers are in the regions of our pilot ranches, but we continue to add retailers, some of which are online with the ability to ship products.
- How can I find out more information about this program?
- Visit Audubon.org/ranching.
- Where is this beef produced?
- We currently have participating ranches in Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Texas, and New Mexico.
- Why should I care about this program?
- By choosing beef products from Audubon-certified ranches, you can contribute to the expansion of livestock management practices that are better for your health, better for cattle, and better for the environment. When expanded to millions of acres, this program will support more sustainable ranching livelihoods, resulting in more grassland birds, cleaner streams, healthier soils, more pollinators for plants, and more carbon stored in plants and soil.
- Why is this product more expensive?
- The implementation of Habitat Management Plans incurs costs for new infrastructure and ongoing management. Program protocols require many changes from conventional cattle management, such as avoiding feedlots, which requires cows to stay on pasture longer.
- Are there animal husbandry standards associated with this program?
- Yes. Program participants must demonstrate a commitment to properly caring for livestock by adhering to livestock production methods that reflect best practices for animal health and welfare. Our 3rd party verifier conducts audits to ensure compliance.
- Is this product antibiotic free?
- Yes. Any animal that must be treated with an antibiotic may not be sold through our program.
- How can I support this program?
- You can purchase beef products that carry the Audubon certification. To make a tax-deductible financial contribution, contact Chris Wilson, Program Director, at email@example.com
- Why is Audubon promoting beef products? Aren’t cattle bad for the environment?
- The program is based on the concept that consumers can have a direct impact on land management through their food purchasing decisions. Grazing animals have been an integral ecological part of grasslands for eons, and cattle can effectively mimic the role of bison in enhancing diversity across the landscape. By adopting regenerative grazing approaches, cattle grazing can actually build soil, sequester carbon, reduce water runoff, and create ecosystems that are more resilient to drought. We believe that such practices can be expanded to encompass millions of acres when conscious consumers choose beef grazed on Audubon-certified ranches, and this will significantly benefit grassland bird populations.
- How do you know this program is helping grassland birds?
- Bird monitoring is conducted on all ranches in the program to measure changes over time as a result of management actions. Audubon uses a “Bird-friendliness Index” to compare certified ranches to other public and private lands in the region.