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Send in the cows: West Japan city rents cattle to graze on land where farming pests hide

Cows Hatsumi and Nogiku are seen grazing on deserted arable land in the city of Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on Aug. 11, 2021. (Mainichi/Nanami Otsubo)

SHIMONOSEKI, Yamaguchi -- In a bid to prevent pests damaging agriculture and forestry crops, the Asaoi neighborhood of this western Japan city is allowing cows to graze on deserted arable land where deer, wild boars and other animals typically hide.

    The "Yamaguchi-type grazing system" is already in use in the prefectural cities of Yamaguchi, Shunan and Iwakuni, and it's hoped the method will prove effective against increasingly serious issues around wild animals and agriculture.

    The grazing system, which is specific to Yamaguchi Prefecture, involves letting cattle graze on paddy fields and deserted arable land surrounded by electric fences.

    Among the expected benefits of the scheme are eliminating deserted arable land, saving labor on animal rearing management, and serving as a pest-prevention measure by letting cows graze while creating good views -- an environment that makes it more difficult for wild animals to approach human settlements.

    Damage to farming and forestry crops in the prefecture came to around 400 million yen (about $3.6 million) in fiscal 2020, with some 40% of damages in the city of Shimonoseki. In the Asaoi neighborhood in particular, rice crops, wheat, pasture and other products sustained damages of about 2.5 million yen (about $22,700), and the issue is getting more serious.

    In February, the same neighborhood put together a comprehensive pest animal countermeasures plan with support from the Yamaguchi Prefectural Government and the Shimonoseki Municipal Government. Along with installation of protective fences and environmental improvement of community-based forests, expectations are also high for the Yamaguchi-style grazing plan.

    The Asaoi neighborhood is also making use of the prefectural government's "rent a cow system" to borrow them for grazing purposes, and borrowed two female Japanese Black cows from the Yamaguchi technology center of agricultural and forestry's livestock technology section: 10-year-old Hatsumi and 6-year-old Nogiku. At the start of August, the pair were let out to graze on 0.5 hectares of deserted arable land filled with weeds about 1.5 meters high.

    A member of the residents' association in Asaoi told the Mainichi Shimbun: "We'd like the two cows to do their best to stop these places from becoming hiding spots for deer and wild boar."

    (Japanese original by Nanami Otsubo, Shimonoseki Bureau)

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