Vegetation and Animal Performance Responses to Stocking Density Grazing Systems in Nebraska Sandhills Meadows

Bianca O. Andrade, Aaron Shropshire, Jordan R. Johnson, Miles D. Redden, Torie Semerad, Jonathan M. Soper, Ben Beckman, Jessica Milby, Kent M. Eskridge, Jerry D. Volesky, Walter H. Schacht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Management-intensive grazing, which is proposed to increase forage and animal productivity and maintain soil integrity and biodiversity, is seen as an alternative to meet 21st century agricultural and environmental challenges. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that high levels of trampling of standing vegetation associated with mob grazing (a.k.a., ultrahigh stocking density) leads to increased plant diversity and productivity. A long-term experiment was established on a subirrigated meadow in the Nebraska Sandhills as a complete block design comparing three grazing treatments applied annually during the growing season for 8 consecutive yr (2010−2017): 120-pasture rotation with one grazing cycle (mob; 225 000 kg live weight ha−1), four-pasture rotation with one grazing cycle (4PR1; 7 000 kg live weight ha−1), and four-pasture rotation with two grazing cycles (4PR2; 5 000 kg live weight ha−1). All treatments were set at a moderate stocking rate (7.4 animal unit months ha−1) using yearling steers. Percentage trampling, plant production, species composition, and steer weight gain were estimated annually. We applied linear mixed-effect models to account for year and treatment effect on the response variables. Percentage trampling on mob pastures ranged from 40% to 55% over the 8 yr of the study, nearly double that of the 4PR1 and 4PR2 pastures. We observed that mob grazing had no overall effect on plant species composition, aboveground production, and root growth relative to low stocking densities. Average daily gain of steers in the mob pastures was less than gain of steers in 4PR2 pastures in all years, with intermediate weight gains for the 4PR1 steers. Overall, stocking density did not appear to be a driver of plant composition and productivity in rotationally grazed pastures on subirrigated meadows in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-96
Number of pages11
JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
Volume82
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2022

Keywords

  • grazing system intensification
  • mob grazing
  • rotational grazing
  • ultrahigh stocking density

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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