Livestock do not graze randomly, they prefer some grazing sites over others. This tendency can cause grazing distribution to be uneven throughout your pastures/paddocks. If uncorrected, grazing distribution problems increase grazing pressure on areas that are used. When managing grazing cattle, you should aim for the greatest utilization of all forages over as much of a pasture, paddock or ranch as possible. Livestock preference for some sites over others is influenced by a number of factors we will cover today and in the coming weeks.
A few factors that influence grazing preferences include plant types (grasses, legumes, weed’s etc.), plant species, forage quantity, forage quality and/or palatability, weather, soil, topography, water sources or the distance between them, and fencing. The greater the differences among these specifically considering vegetation, topography, etc., the more likely your Cattle, Pig’s, Sheep/Lambs etc. are to concentrate on some areas and avoid others. Although it may be easy to identify water distribution problems, those problems may be difficult to correct because of cost associated with burying freeze proof lines or simply water availability. Causes of other distribution problems may be harder to identify. For example, distribution problems may be harder to pinpoint if they are associated with forage preferences or human activities.
When making decisions about grazing distribution, there are several factors to consider:
2 of them being animal behavior & distance to water.
Animals decide where to graze based on their perceptions of what’s available. When we turn out or cattle into "New" paddocks every week, they quickly explore the "New" offerings and develop map-like representations of the locations of different areas within that pasture. Even though they’ve been on these pastures as recently as 4 weeks earlier, some of the forages and the abundance or lack of them will vary throughout the growing season. Based on their long-term memory, animals may return to areas previously grazed to search for forage. Their expectations of an area based on long term memory change more slowly than changes in forage quality and quantity. Animals may revisit areas where forage has been exhausted, but where they have found forage in the past, until they learn that forage is no longer available. Grazing animals appear to use their short-term memory to recall which areas they have recently visited. They will use this memory in the near future to avoid or return to these areas. For periods of up to 8 hours, cattle can vividly remember areas where they have recently foraged.
Be consistent with your forage offerings.
Introducing animals from one type of vegetation and/or topography to a very different type of range can reduce animal performance until the animals learn the new environment, which can take up to a year.
Distance to Water
In the lush North/East, livestock need free-choice access to water and dry hay. When their water intake is restricted, milk production drops, feed intake is lowered, and gain in offspring is reduced. More water is needed as increases occur in live weight, lactation, physical activity, and dry matter intake. Less water is required when the forage has a high water content and for animal species and breeds that use water more efficiently. When animals are forced to travel great distances between forage and water, they use more energy. Animals that haven’t been weaned yet are most susceptible to lack of water availability because they are affected by the reduced milk production of the mother, and they are less likely to travel all the way to water with their mothers on hot days. Water availability is a major cause of poor grazing distribution. Water is the central point of grazing activities. Near water, plants are often used heavily and forage production drops. The location and number of waterers are the main factors in determining movement, distribution of manure, and concentration of grazing animals. Watering location should be placed based on vegetation type, topography of your area being grazed, the season of the year, the kind of animals being grazed, and the age of the grazing animals.