Let’s continue with the second part of our current discussion we started last week, discussing animal behavior and grazing memory. This week we’ll cover Topography, Weather and start looking at “Distribution Tools”.
The second most important cause of poor grazing distribution is topography. Cattle seldom use areas with greater than 10 percent slope. On the other hand, sheep make good use of areas with up to 45 percent slope. Topography is more important on the hilly or mountainous parts of your farm. The effect of topography varies with the kind of grazing animal. For example, cattle prefer easily accessible areas that are flat and gently rolling.
The fact that cattle, horses, and bison will graze on slopes during some seasons of the year suggests that they may be more unwilling than unable to graze steeper slopes. Cattle will cross steeper slopes if they have easy access to the slope and contours that cross the slopes. Sheep and goats, which are smaller, more agile, and more surefooted, can make more use of steeper and rougher topography. Yearling cattle are also more agile than mature cows and will travel further and use more rugged areas.
However, because even smaller, more agile livestock have their limitations, rugged terrain can still limit use. For example, our neighbors sheep & goats have used slopes up to 45 percent fairly evenly, but reduce use by as much as 75 percent on steeper areas. Think of topography this way, if rocky ground makes walking difficult for you, it will also be difficult for your cattle.
Forage preferences of different livestock species have a strong influence on grazing patterns. For example, cattle, with their strong preference for grasses, tend to avoid dense brushy areas. As brush becomes more dense, cattle grazing decreases. Forage species play a major role in grazing distribution. Plants may differ in palatability or in the amount of leaf material available. These differences greatly influence where animals choose to graze. Hypothetically, even in a single species grass pasture (good luck finding one of those), the entire pasture use may not be uniform. Plants often produce succulent new growth once given the opportunity to “rest”, (after the grazing animals have been moved on to new pastures). Because grazing animals prefer this new growth, when given the opportunity to re-graze these pastures before given the recommended resting period, the animals sometimes revisit these area’s and avoid plants and patches with older growth not previously grazed or areas where feces have been deposited.
Grazing will also be limited by temperature changes, snow, and excessive rainfall. Even in the North/East, high temperatures are the most consistent weather factor affecting grazing distribution. When temperatures exceed 85 degrees F, our cattle and pig’s seek shade, and if not given shade in close proximity to where their grazing, may walk far to find it.
Distribution tools and recommendations
To improve grazing distribution, water sources can be developed in a number of ways, including drilling wells and building drinking troughs, earthen reservoirs, or pipelines to transport water to new locations. An effective way to draw animals to desired areas without additional fencing is to control and change their access to watering points. As a last resort or temporary measure, water can be hauled to poorly used locations.
In general, do not require cattle to travel more than 1/4 to 1/2 mile from forage to water (1/2 to 1 mile between watering points) in steep, rough terrain; or more than 1 mile (2 miles between watering points) on level or gently rolling ground. Spacing for sheep and horses can be wider. Generally, plan for no more than 50 cattle and 300 sheep, or 50 to 75 animal units, per watering facility.