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Landscape nutritional patterns and cattle distribution in rangeland pastures

By D. C. Ganskopp, D. W. Bohnert

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On rangelands, uneven or unmanaged livestock distribution can adversely affect plant community composition, riparian function, or displace wildlife. These issues have historic precedents and are still a challenge for those managing rangelands. A thorough understanding of the mechanisms governing livestock distribution can help land and livestock managers avoid or ameliorate many deleterious effects. To that end, this research tested hypotheses that grazing cattle seek nutritionally superior portions of rangeland pastures. Global positioning system (GPS) collars were used to track cattle movement and activity in three, 800+ ha pastures where the spatial distribution of standing crop, crude protein (CP), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber (ADF), and forage digestibility (in situ dry matter disappearance (ISDMD)) were mapped in late spring. Four of five analyses implied grazing cattle spatially responded to forage quantity/quality attributes. Analyses indicated cattle favored higher than average CP (P=0.006) and ISDMD (P=0.078), and lower than average NDF (P=0.003) and standing crop (P=0.069) locales. No significant effect (P=0.954) occurred with ADF analyses. Correlations among those variables imply cattle may simultaneously respond to more than one nutritional attribute as they select foraging locales. Stepwise regression, however, relating grazing distribution to geophysical and forage quantity/quality characteristics were extremely poor predictors of where cattle grazed. Listed in order of entry, the model implied elevation above or below stock water, horizontal distance to stock water, forage CP content, and degree of slope were the site specific attributes most associated with cattle distribution. We speculate that cattle interactions with landscape level nutritional dynamics may at least partially explain seasonal changes in distribution and forage use by cattle across the landscape. These findings should help land and livestock managers understand, explain, and manipulate livestock distribution on their holdings.

Date 2009
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 116
Issue 2/4
Pages 110-119
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.10.006
Language English
Author Address USDA-ARS, Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center, 67826-A Hwy. 205, Burns, OR 97720, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal nutrition
  3. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  4. Biological resources
  5. Cattle
  6. Digestibility
  7. Effect
  8. Fodder
  9. Foraging
  10. Grasslands and rangelands
  11. Grazing
  12. Interactions
  13. Livestock
  14. Mammals
  15. Nutrition
  16. pastures
  17. peer-reviewed
  18. predictions
  19. predictors
  20. proteins
  21. rangelands
  22. Ruminants
  23. seasons
  24. space
  25. Wild animals
  26. wildlife
  27. Zoology
  1. peer-reviewed