Wild about Wildlife

How Livestock Grazing Can Help Wildlife

Elk Herd In the Intermountain West where summer rain is rare, grasses normally dry out and enter dormancy early in the summer. When dormant, grasses usually are not good feed for livestock or wildlife. Mule deer and pronghorn seldom use dormant grasses in their diets during fall, winter and early spring for this reason. Elk will utilize them but nutrient content of the grasses will not meet the nutritional requirements of elk. Controlled grazing with livestock provides a potential method to improve both protein and energy content of grasses as well as improving the palatability (the taste) of them for mule deer, pronghorn and elk.

Pronghorn Antelope Livestock grazing in the spring when grasses are green, just as the seed heads are forming, removes most of the plant material. This forces the grass plants to begin again. As this regrowth develops, soil moisture decreases with the onset of summer. If timing is correct there is insufficient soil moisture available to complete the growth cycle of the grass and the plants will go into dormancy in an immature stage. This immature stage is higher in nutrient content than if the plants were allowed to complete their life cycle and produce seed. The lack of reproductive stems also improves the palatability of the grasses to wild ungulates (deer, elk, antelope). This same management strategy can also be used to enhance the growth of desirable shrubs like bitterbrush. The trick is to remove the livestock when sufficient soil moisture remains to provide regrowth of the grasses or additional growth by shrubs. This system must not be used annually, as the grasses need to be rested every other year and allowed to complete their life cycle.

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