Cattle Grazing as a Habitat Managment Tool

In some cases cattle grazing can be controversial – not on our ranch.

We believe that cattle grazing is a necessary component of good land management, especially when managing for native species. Native habitat  did not include thick stands of imported European annual grass. Native grasses tended to be perennial bunch grass with space in between the clumps. Space which accommodated the critters and also various other plants which the native species fed upon.

On a recent hike, I took two photographs of areas that were grazed and on the same hillside only about 200 yards apart (not on our property). They were in the same field and the same grazing practice was taking place at each photo site. The difference is dramatic. In both cases, the habitat was not ideal.

In the first photo, the grass was thick and matted down.

At this location the cattle had completely ignored the grass. This thick stand was not useful for anything.

I had a hard time understanding how the grass could be so completely ignored. At the second site, the opposite was true.

This second photo is tough to fully appreciate, but the grass is nearly gone and the result is star thistle taking root.

At this overgrazed site, the grass had been nearly completely grazed and non-native star thistle, an invasive and undesirable plant is moving in. Why did the cattle prefer this site to the other? I don’t know. Part of it may have been access, as the second site was very close to a road, which made it easy to reach.

These photos demonstrate why it is difficult to manage grassland with cattle grazing – it’s a dynamic situation.

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