Grazing animals have played a big part in the development and maintenance of vast areas of landscapes. It certainly helped farmers and their livelihood throughout history. Similarly, grazing also impacts the environment. Ecosystems are maintained because of properly managed grazing techniques. This article will discuss how grazing animals will help plants to become established.
Effects of Grazing Animals on the Environment
Grazing can give positive impacts on the environment. This will be beneficial as long as it is carefully studied and controlled. It is very important to integrate science-based management in livestock grazing so you can maximize its benefits.
Consequently, good management can decrease the possibility of negative impacts. Aside from this, it is also essential to study the ecosystem, vegetation, and the overall condition of a site before you start grazing animals on it.
1. Grazing Helps Plants to Become Established
Grazing helps select plant species that need to be established. This will depend on the herbivore present. Different animals prefer specific plants. As a result, this aspect gives the rangeland manager control over what plant to establish and also what plant needs to be removed from a particular site. Grazing can help manage destructive plant species and therefore give way for more beneficial ones.
For instance, livestock lessens the growth of destructive plants by eating them. Moreover, grazing animals help establish plants through their coats, hooves, and manure. Seeds get transported and dispersed because of these animals. Moreover, seed germination can occur in trampled soil.
Grazing does not only help in the management of invasive foliage but also in the establishment of less invasive and more beneficial plant species.
Furthermore, grazing animals help remove excessive amounts of dead vegetation. Without grazing, grasslands become covered with shrubs. The excessive thatch inhibits the proper growth of native grasses and forbs. Hence, the development of beneficial grassland plants is hindered.
There are a lot of plant species that need livestock grazing to maintain viable populations. Besides, it can lead to the growth of structurally different types of plants. Grazing not only helps plants become established, but it also promotes biodiversity within an area.
2. Grazing Lessen the Frequency of Wildfires
Grazed rangelands are less likely to fuel wildfires compared to ungrazed areas. Timing is an important aspect if you want to decrease wildfires and its intensity in an area through grazing.
Animals must be able to feed on during the time that the vegetation is highly combustible. When done with the right timing, livestock grazing can significantly lessen wildland fuels. When this happens, the risk for a wildfire will decrease.
3. Grazing Leads to a Nutrient-Rich Soil
Livestock manure around grasslands helps improve the mineral and nitrogen content of its soil. While consuming invasive plant species, grazing animal manure provides fertilizer to help support the growth of native wildflowers and grass.
Aside from enriching the ground with their manure, grazing ungulates can help in the incorporation of plant material in the soil which in turn can increase the organic materials in it.
4. Grazing Animals Help Maintain and Improve Wildlife Habitat
Grazing promotes a more diverse habitat for several animals. Animals that lost their natural habitat due to urbanization and industrialization can find refuge in grazing maintained rangelands.
The environment developed by livestock grazing is beneficial for the continued existence of many species. Various species rely on rangeland environment conditions. Livestock operation is a useful tool in the survival of various grassland-associated animal species like birds, amphibians, and mammals. Otherwise, these will become endangered in the wild.
Some examples of animals that rely heavily on the environment of grazed lands are the California tiger salamanders, Alameda striped racers, burrowing owls, Kangaroo rats, and Callippe Silverspot butterfly.
What is Rangeland?
A Rangeland or range is defined as an extensive grassland occupied by vegetation where animals graze. Therefore, 40-50% land area of the Earth is considered one. Aside from being a source of forage, ranges provide materials such as timber, minerals, and recreational opportunities for its manager.
Rangelands do not need complex management unlike lands used for pasture. In other words, seeding, irrigation systems, and fertilizers are not necessary. For instance, the principal techniques for rangeland maintenance include timing, regulation of animals, and proper targeting of areas to be utilized.
The main problem a rangeland manager can face is overgrazing. If not controlled, the resources in a range can be fully depleted without enough time for recovery and regrowth. The principal techniques must be carefully implemented to prevent overuse and to maintain the land.
Types of Grazing Animals
Grazing mainly uses farm animals. These herbivores help promote the reintroduction of balanced biodiversity, especially among urban areas.
Consequently, a land manager must ensure the animals receive proper care. First, the land must have a source of water. Either a man-made pond or a naturally occurring water source must be present.
Next, a strong and suitable fence should also be established. Different animals require different fences. Last, veterinarians must be available whenever needed.
The three main types of livestock and their contribution to the maintenance of land will be discussed in the succeeding paragraphs.
Sheep are known as natural land mowers. They maintain plant and grass height to 3 cm. They also eat low scrubs aside from grasses and herbs. Sheep can tolerate secondary plant compounds and they are not easily poisoned.
Around a grassland, sheep graze selectively. Their manure is distributed throughout the area which helps create a wide area of fertile-soil. Aside from enriching the land, their manure attracts other insects and animals. This then results in the increase of biodiversity on the rangeland.
Sheep require secure fencing to avoid escape. Moreover, they are not suited to graze on mostly wet parts for long periods because they are prone to footrot.
Goats prefer to feed on shrubs and woody foliage. They can reach taller branches and climb. Graze with goats if you have steep areas and edges that need maintenance. They are useful in reducing vegetation in such areas to give way for native grasses and flowers. Moreover, goats are the most tolerant of secondary plant compounds compared to sheep and cattle.
On the other hand, goats are known, good escapees. Aside from the need to frequently check on them, you must have secure fencing if you want to utilize them on your land.
When used for grazing, cattle leave plants with a height ranging from 5-6 cm. Because they are bigger, they can create diverse grasslands better than sheep and goats. These prefer to feed on grasses and graze more uniformly than sheep and goats. Also, cattle can break up the ground and create gaps amidst tall and coarse shrubbery like bracken.
Although good for maintaining vast, flat grounds, there is a negative impact of using cattle for grazing. Wet areas in meadows are trampled upon by these animals. As a result, the ground can become hard and inapt for plant growth when dry.
Utilize different animals to graze if you want to develop more balanced rangeland. Different farm animals have different dietary preferences. Using multiple species to graze an area can help reduce the risk of vulnerable animals consuming plants that are toxic to them.
Aside from this, shrubs and forbs are all consumed and no plant will grow more than the other. The larger grazing animals can also present protection for the smaller ones.
Livestock grazing is an effective way to help plants become established. Aside from this, it can also help reduce fire fuels and improve the soil quality in an area.
Grazing has also helped diverse animal and plant species to survive amidst countless environmental instability. More importantly, it has a heavy impact on the sustenance and maintenance of wildlife habitats, biodiversity, and ecosystems.