What is in this article?:
- What is overgrazing?
- Allow regrowth to rest
- Having more animals will accelerate overgrazing; but overgrazing is not so much how many animals are present, but how those animals are managed.
- Read more range management advice from BEEF columnist Burke Teichert here.
Allow regrowth to rest
The most important aspect to understand is that when grass is grazed, the leaf area will regrow; utilizing energy reserves stored in the crown and roots. After regrowth, it takes three to six weeks for most species to replenish those reserves. If regrazed prior to replenishment, the plant will die. That's overgrazing.
Proper grazing management is rotating the animals before they can graze regrowth. This is why continuous grazing in the same pasture ensures overgrazing. Even if there is only one animal in the pasture, they will preferentially seek out lush green regrowth. Over time, the more nutritious and palatable plants will be replaced by less nutritious plants.
The question always asked is, "when should the animals be moved?" Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast answer for that.
The need for movement will depend upon the weather. During peak growing season, movements may be often. In winter, when there is no plant growth, one pasture can be used until spring.
Likewise, during warm weather if drought is present, animals can be left for relatively long periods. Once it rains however, movement must be quick. If not, the pasture will be devastated.
Another common misconception, especially among environmentalists, is that only domestic livestock overgraze. That is most emphatically not true. In fact, many wild ungulates are more selective and therefore more prone to overgrazing than cattle.
As an example, the American buffalo is often said to be "easier on the land" than cattle. Absolutely not true. If you watch buffalo graze, they use their lips as prehensile organs; whereas cattle use the tongue. As a result, buffalo can be (and are) more selective than cattle.
Buffalo are, however, much more athletic, and will readily climb rough or steep terrain, thereby utilizing a pasture more thoroughly than cattle. But leave them in a pasture too long, and they will graze and regraze lush regrowth.
The bottom line is that there is nothing special about wild ungulates. It makes no difference whether the animals are buffalo, elk, deer or cattle. They will instinctively seek out the lushest, most nutritious forage available. Unmanaged and non-rotated, they will deteriorate range quality.
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