Rotational Grazing on Rangelands: Reconciliation of Perception and Experimental Evidence
AuthorBriske, D. D.
Derner, J. D.
Brown, J. R.
Fuhlendorf, S. D.
Teague, W. R.
Havstad, K. M.
Gillen, R. L.
Ash, A. J.
Willms, W. D.
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CitationBriske, D. D., Derner, J. D., Brown, J. R., Fuhlendorf, S. D., Teague, W. R., Havstad, K. M., ... & Willms, W. D. (2008). Rotational grazing on rangelands: reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 61(1), 3-17.
PublisherSociety for Range Management
JournalRangeland Ecology & Management
AbstractIn spite of overwhelming experimental evidence to the contrary, rotational grazing continues to be promoted and implemented as the only viable grazing strategy. The goals of this synthesis are to 1) reevaluate the complexity, underlying assumptions, and ecological processes of grazed ecosystems, 2) summarize plant and animal production responses to rotational and continuous grazing, 3) characterize the prevailing perceptions influencing the assessment of rotational and continuous grazing, and 4) attempt to direct the profession toward a reconciliation of perceptions advocating support for rotational grazing systems with that of the experimental evidence. The ecological relationships of grazing systems have been reasonably well resolved, at the scales investigated, and a continuation of costly grazing experiments adhering to conventional research protocols will yield little additional information. Plant production was equal or greater in continuous compared to rotational grazing in 87% (20 of 23) of the experiments. Similarly, animal production per head and per area were equal or greater in continuous compared to rotational grazing in 92% (35 of 38) and 84% (27 of 32) of the experiments, respectively. These experimental data demonstrate that a set of potentially effective grazing strategies exist, none of which have unique properties that set one apart from the other in terms of ecological effectiveness. The performance of rangeland grazing strategies are similarly constrained by several ecological variables establishing that differences among them are dependent on the effectiveness of management models, rather than the occurrence of unique ecological phenomena. Continued advocacy for rotational grazing as a superior strategy of grazing on rangelands is founded on perception and anecdotal interpretations, rather than an objective assessment of the vast experimental evidence. We recommend that these evidence-based conclusions be explicitly incorporated into management and policy decisions addressing this predominant land use on rangelands.
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Grazing systems, stocking rates, and cattle behavior in southeastern WyomingHepworth, K. W.; Test, P. S.; Hart, R. H.; Waggoner, J. W.; Smith, M. A. (Society for Range Management, 1991-05-01)Grazing systems and stocking rates are used to influence livestock grazing behavior with the intent of improving livestock and vegetation performance. In 1982, a study was initiated to determine effects of continuous, rotationally deferred, and short-duration rotation grazing and moderate and heavy stocking rates on steer gains, range vegetation, and distance traveled by and activity patterns of steers. Steers were observed from dawn to dark on 12 dates during 1983, 1984, and 1985, and activity recorded every 15 minutes. Eight steers per treatment (system X stocking rate combination) per date were observed in 1983 and 1984, and 10 per treatment in 1985. In 1984 and 1985, map locations of all steers were recorded at the same times as activity, and distance traveled summed from distances between successive map locations. In 1984, activity of 3 steers per treatment was electronically monitored during darkness. Steers grazed approximately 8.6 hr per day during daylight and 1.6 hr during darkness. Steers grazed an average of 8.9 hr/day during daylight under moderate vs 8.1 hr under heavy stocking, but stocking rate interacted with date in 1984 and grazing system in 1985. Steers traveled farther under continuous than under short-duration rotation grazing at both stocking rates in 1984, but only at the high stocking rate in 1985. Steers had to travel farther to water in the continuous pastures, and may have had to cover a greater area in an effort to select a more desirable diet, particularly under heavy stocking. These differences were not reflected in differences in gain among stocking rates or grazing systems.
Grazing systems, pasture size, and cattle grazing behavior, distribution and gainsHart, R. H.; Bissio, J.; Samuel, M. J.; Waggoner, J. W. (Society for Range Management, 1993-01-01)Reduced pasture size and distance to water may be responsible for the alleged benefits of intensive time-controlled rotation grazing systems. We compared cattle gains, activity, distance traveled, and forage utilization on a time-controlled rotation system with eight 24-ha pastures, on two 24-ha pastures grazed continuously (season-long), and on a 207-ha pasture grazed continuously, all stocked at the same rate. Utilization on the 207-ha pasture, but not on the 24-ha pastures, declined with distance from water. At distances greater than 3 km from water in the 207-ha pasture, utilization was significantly less than on adjacent 24-ha pastures, at distances of 1.0 to 1.6 km from water. Cows on the 207-ha pasture travelled farther (6.1 km/day) than cows on the 24-ha rotation pastures (4.2 km/day), which traveled farther than cows on the 24-ha continuously grazed pastures (3.2 km/day). Grazing system, range site, slope, and weather had minimal effects on cow activity patterns. Gains of cows and calves were less on the 207-ha pasture (0.24 and 0.77 kg/day, respectively) than on the 24-ha rotation pastures or 24-ha continuously grazed pastures (0.42 and 0.89 kg/da, respectively), with no differences between the latter. Calculated "hoof action" on the rotation pastures was less than that demonstrated to increase seed burial and seedling emergence. Intensive rotation grazing systems are unlikely to benefit animal performance unless they reduce pasture size and distance to water below previous levels, decreasing travel distance and increasing uniformity of grazing.