Using Livestock to Manage for Wildlife
Many people mistakenly believe that when managing for wildlife that livestock production can not coexist. Reality is that this entire part of Texas was developed under grazing pressure and was grazed prior to European settlers. Prior to European settlers, most grazing was by herds of buffalo that roamed through the area. The reason for this misconception is that in a lot of instances landowners will overstock their property with livestock and begin to create competition for food among the wildlife and livestock. When this occurs, range conditions deteriate and wildlife populations decline.
There is a fine line between using livestock as a tool and the livestock becoming a detriment to wildlife. Livestock can be one of the best tools at your disposal. To ensure that you are using the livestock as a tool you can take a few simple steps.
The first thing you need to determine is what species of wildlife you want to manage for. If you are managing for deer you don't want to bring in livestock that is going to eat the same forbs and browse that a deer is going to eat. This would be direct competition for the same resource. In this instance, sheep and goats would not be a good livestock choice. Cattle would be the preferred choice. Cattle are primarily grazers and as long as there is sufficient grass there will not be measurable competition for forbs and browse.
The next thing is to ensure that your stocking rate of the livestock is satisfactory. All livestock species will begin to overgraze when their numbers get to high or the amount of food diminishes. This can cause multiple problems. If quail are the species you are managing for, too much decline in native grass will remove nesting cover which will have a negative impact. Also, when cattle do not have enough grass they will turn to forbs and to browsing.
This affects all wildlife by making their food less available. On the flip side, not having enough grazing pressure could have a negative outcome. In this part of the state where rainfall is adequate most years, areas become rank with vegetation and in some situations may become too thick for certain species.
Third you want to rotate your livestock on a periodic
basis. Referring back to the buffalo, when a buffalo herd moved into an area it would graze very heavily on all of the plants, then the herd would move on to another area and not
return for a long time. This
grazing would stimulate new plant growth, it removed excess grass from the ground that restricted the growth of forbs, and their hoof action would loosen the soil to allow for better water absorption. If the buffalo herd would have stayed in one place too long they would have had a negative impact on the ecology. Today most ranches have a modern "Buffalo Herd" on their property. We call them cattle. The cattle often times are kept in one pasture year around and allowed to negatively impact the range. When rotational grazing is implemented on your property you simulate the conditions that the plant community was developed under. You graze the area for a short period, which is followed by a long period of rest.
Livestock can be an indispensable tool to your management program. Managers need to understand the wildlife species needs, then make sure that your livestock choice does not conflict. The bottom line of using livestock to manage for wildlife is that outstanding results are achievable as long as you take wildlife needs into account.
If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at; http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ wildlifebiologist.