Researchers say they are trying to take the first step in taking what used to be low technology in grazing to high technology. The idea is to help producers manage their herds, preventing overgrazing and conserving biodiversity in the land.
A study conducted by the USDA-ARS, several universities and the Long-term Agroecosystem Research network have looked at pastures ranging from 40 acres to 4,000 acre pastures from across the country—and different climates. The study looked at large arid pastures in New Mexico to high production small pastures in Florida.
Researchers examined the influence of topography on grazing distribution that can inform land managers in the selection of efficient grazing strategies.
Livestock managers are looking for information on several factors affecting grazing distribution before implementing land management strategies.
With this in mind, researchers at USDA-ARS completed a cross-site collaboration study with university-operated experiment stations and four LTAR funded sites, with the primary goal of determining how factors like landscape topography and water availability affect cattle grazing distribution. The data collected at all sites creates a benchmark for understanding how environment can drive the spatial patterns of animal use in pastures under several management practices and across the various ecosystems.
The study collected data from seven rangeland sites in Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, Colorado, and Idaho and used collars equipped with global positioning system (GPS) technology to measure cattle movement and activity. This technology was successfully used in prior studies completed by scientists David J. Augustine and Justin D. Derner, from the Rangeland Resources and Systems Research Unit, at Fort Collins, CO and Cheyenne, WY.
Information gathered from the GPS collars give researchers a starting point to determine how topography in seven rangeland sites in North America determine livestock grazing distribution.
Researchers look at various parts of the landscape like flat plains, lowlands, open slopes, and upland. Then they developed models that can be used to predict distribution of grazing cattle. One observation from these models is cattle prefer to graze low-lying locations in drier regions and more elevated locations in wetter regions, where flooding likely reduces selection.
The USDA-ARS LTAR Grazing lands working group of scientists hope this study is the first step in creating similar collaborative efforts, including plant community composition, forage production, and livestock weight gains to provide insights into sustainable livestock management strategies across diverse rangeland ecosystems.