Sustainable intensification in the Brazilian cattle industry: The role for reduced slaughter age

Marin Elisabeth Skidmore, Kaitlyn M. Sims, Lisa L. Rausch, Holly K. Gibbs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cattle industry in the Brazilian Amazon causes vast deforestation while producing at only one-third of the sustainable capacity. Slaughtering cattle at a younger age directly increases production per hectare per year, all else equal, and provides a potential path for sustainable intensification. Here we show that slaughter age is decreasing in the Amazon biome, but this increase in productivity varies across space and throughout the cattle supply chain. We characterize the properties and municipalities that have reduced slaughter age, providing insights into the incentives and barriers to this form of intensification. Most notably, reductions in slaughter age occurred in regions with low remaining forest cover and on properties with little current deforestation, suggesting that ranchers intensify via slaughter age as an alternative to deforestation. We then estimate how changing production practices to reduce slaughter age can reduce enteric methane emissions, accounting for production of additional feed. Our results indicate that reducing slaughter age through improved pasture and feed sources are a path to lower global GHG emissions from cattle production, particularly as beef is increasingly produced in developing countries with historically higher emissions. Yet in the Amazon, deforestation remains the leading source of GHG emissions, necessitating that any effort to reduce slaughter age must be coupled with strict enforcement of zero-deforestation policy. Our findings demonstrate the potential of policy limiting deforestation as a means to reduce both emissions from deforestation and enteric emissions from cattle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number064026
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2022


  • cattle supply chain
  • intensification
  • legal Amazon
  • production
  • slaughter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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