Ecosystem and livestock awareness necessary in targeted grazing plans
“Targeted grazing is the application of a specific kind of livestock at a determined season, duration and intensity to accomplish defined vegetation or landscape goals,” states the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) Targeted Grazing Handbook.
Describing targeted grazing as a new paradigm for livestock management, authors Karen Launchbaugh and John Walker discuss grazing as a practice to manage livestock as a service for vegetation control and creating desirable landscapes.
Launchbaugh is a rangeland specialist and chair of the rangeland ecology and management department at the University of Idaho, Moscow, and Walker is a professor and resident director at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in San Angelo, Texas.
“This concept has been around for many decades and has taken many names, including prescribed grazing and managed herbivory. The major difference between good grazing management and targeted grazing is that targeted grazing refocuses outputs of grazing from livestock production to vegetation and livestock enhancement,” the authors explain.
Targeted grazing can be implemented to reduce the risk of wildfire, improve habitat and remove undesirable vegetation. Sheep and goats, for example, can be used to target noxious weeds such as leafy spurge, spotted knapweed and kudzu.
“Targeted grazing should be considered another tool in the kit for constructing desirable ecosystems. It can and should be used in combination with other techniques, such as burning, mechanical tree harvesting, hand-grubbing, chaining, applying herbicides, chiseling and seeding,” the report states.
Patience and commitment are key skills for targeted grazing managers, according to the authors, who explain that results may not appear for up to three years in a properly managed system.
“Once management objectives are maintained, managers must be prepared to modify their grazing from the system in use when the problem occurred or it will surely return,” they continued.
Effective programs will cause significant damage to the target plants, limit damage to desired vegetation and be integrated with other strategies to obtain management goals. Site-specific ecology will impact how plans should be implemented.
“A targeted grazing prescription specifies the time grazing should be applied for maximum impact,” the authors note. “Enticing livestock to eat and cause damage to specific target plants requires careful selection of the time of year to apply grazing.”
Target plant palatability depends on an animal’s inherited and developed plant preferences, and target plants are also incorporated into ecological systems that contain desirable plants as well.
“A clear understanding of the palatability and susceptibility of all plants in the community is needed to design a grazing strategy that will comprise the target plants and benefit the desirable plants,” the authors say.
If weeds are at low levels in the landscape, grazing plans can be used to maintain those low levels and prevent the establishment of new weeds. In areas with higher weed levels, plans can be used to restore balance into the ecosystem. In areas where weeds have completely overtaken the landscape, grazing can be implemented to prepare the area for seeding by trampling seeds into the soil and controlling the establishment of weeds.
“There is a continuum of management intensities that can be used for targeted grazing, and it is important to match the management intensity with the economic constraints of the land manager and the livestock production goals of the grazer,” states the report.
Various plans can be developed with successful results, assuming livestock and landscape managers are patient and loyal to their goals.
“Making targeted grazing an active part of vegetation management programs will require greater dedication and commitment to grazing management techniques,” the authors say.
To learn more about how to create a targeted grazing management plan, refer to the “Targeted Grazing Handbook” found at sheepusa.org.
Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.