Bozeman, MT – Livestock grazing is often blamed for poor land health, but it does not have to be.
During the Sheep Symposium at this year’s Western Section meeting, Rachel Frost, a research scientist at Montana State University, said livestock grazing used in conjunction with other land management techniques is a good way to improve livestock production and land health.
Rangeland, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the world’s land, is considered the most degraded land type in the world.
Frost said the solution to rangeland degradation does not lie in the exclusion of livestock grazing. Instead the restoration of degraded rangeland lies in combining livestock grazing with herbicides, mechanical treatments, prescribed burning and/or insect biological control agents.
By integrating livestock grazing with these other management tools, invasive weed populations can be controlled.
“We apply one tool and hope that the tool will set up the vegetation, either by changing the structure or composition, to make the following tool successful in accomplishing the overall vegetation management goal,” said Frost.
Grazing and herbicides
Grazing can be combined with herbicides to either stress plants before herbicide use or after herbicide use to control residual plants. Studies have found this method to be especially effective at controlling leafy spurge and spotted knapweed.
Grazing and prescribed fire
Grazing combined with prescribed fires is an effective way to control invasive annual grasses such as cheatgrass. By moderating the fuel load for prescribed fires, this combination decreases risk of wildfire.
Grazing and mechanical control
This combination of management tools is effective at controlling woody plant species and shrubs. Mechanical control can provide a “top-kill.” Regrowth of these plants provide livestock with vegetation that contains fewer toxins and is more palatable.
Grazing and insect biological control agents
Combining these two management tools should be done with great care and planning. The combination has been known to be effective less than 30 percent of the time. Success takes a longer amount of time and is often not as economical as the other livestock grazing combinations.
Despite the bad reputation livestock has for degrading land quality and value, numerous studies show that proper management of livestock can actually improve land quality and value.
“It’s going to require a little bit of a change in attitude,” said Frost, “both from us, as grazing managers, and from the land managers, particularly on the agency side of things who have constantly been reminded that they think livestock grazing is a problem.”
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