Changing Grazing Habits
Jun 16, 2012
Changing Grazing Habits
Fencing is the best way to alter the grazing habits of your cattle, sheep, goats, etc.
Fences can separate areas that need different grazing management, such as riparian buffers around ponds and along streams, irrigated pastures, or seasonal use areas. Fences can also be used to subdivide large pastures into more manageable paddocks. When starting to build your fencing, make the best use of existing or proposed watering areas. Permanent water facilities should serve more than one pasture. Make sure that each fenced area has enough watering points. Consider the grazing site and potential forage production where possible. However, it is usually impractical to fence individual plant communities because of their small size and random distribution across the landscape. If multiple livestock species are to be grazed, such as sheep, goats and donkeys, use the appropriate fencing materials for the species.
Because livestock tend to go from water to grazing to salt or mineral tubs, it is not necessary to place salt and/or minerals at watering points. Salt consumption tends to stimulate the appetite of grazing animals.
To encourage grazing in areas where livestock need to be drawn, place mineral tubs where it is accessible within those areas. Purposely locate salt, minerals and/or other supplements not less than 1/3 mile from water on pastures of 640 acres or more. On smaller pastures/paddocks, place them no less than about 350 yards from water. Because bedding grounds are already being used, locate salt and other supplements away from them. Move salt and supplements frequently, except during birthing seasons. Reports vary concerning whether salt is an effective tool for altering grazing distribution. It does not appear to overcome the influence of water, favored forages, favorable terrain, protective cover, or in weather like we’re experiencing today in the Northeast (93°!) Protein and energy supplements or salt-meal mixes are more likely to be effective in influencing grazing patterns than salt alone. Grazing behavior and distribution are also affected by the feeding interval for supplements.
Kind of Livestock
Match your livestock species to the vegetation. Place your cattle in a habitat where grass is readily available.
Consider using goats in areas that have a high proportion of woody (browse) plants. Some classes of livestock fit the terrain better than others. For example, yearling cattle are more agile and tend to travel farther than cows with calves, and therefore make better use of rugged terrain. Animals may have difficulty adjusting to new foraging environments even if the new location has abundant forage.
New locations with toxic plants are potentially dangerous. Naive animals tend to spend more time grazing but eat less, walk greater distances, suffer more weight loss, and are more likely to eat toxic plants.
Although animals can make the transition to new locations, it usually takes about a year to adjust. This transition can be eased if the food and terrain in the new location are similar to what the animals already know
Shade influences grazing distribution on hot summer days. Livestock have been observed to travel considerable distances to reach shade on hot days. Cattle and sheep routinely seek shade around midday on summer days when temperatures exceed 85°F. Brahman and similar breeds of cattle are less likely to seek shade during the hot midday and more likely to rest in open areas. Cattle with dark hair coats tend to seek shade earlier and for longer periods. Cattle are more likely to stay around water if shade is available.
In comparison, sheep are less likely to rest and loaf near water. Providing shade has been shown to increase summer-long weight gain in yearling steers.
Some treatments can improve the palatability of forages and/or increase the length of the green period.
These treatments act by removing unpalatable species or old growth or stimulating palatable growth. The theory is that improving palatability could attract grazing animals into previously unused or underused areas.
For example, nitrogen fertilization is known to lengthen the green period. Nitrogen can also improve the palatability of some species.
Prescribed burning can be used to improve palatability. Burning improves palatability by removing old growth, thus making new growth more accessible. However, be careful to avoid too much grazing pressure by making sure you remove less than 50% of the new growth. Probably the best approach is flash grazing, which is grazing for a short period in the spring after a winter burn and then allowing the burned areas three to six months or longer to recover to a point where normal grazing is feasible without damaging the plants.