Cattle grazing behavior with season-long free-choice access to four forage types

Jeffrey S. Fehmi, James F. Karn, Ronald E. Ries, John R. Hendrickson, Jon D. Hanson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


This experiment investigated how season-long, free-choice grazing affected weekly cattle grazing behavior and resource use. Our objectives were to determine if known forage preferences change through the season, if feedbacks from previous grazing intensity affect current use, and if resources such as water and salt in combination with a shorter forage base increase grazing time compared to previously rested pasture. Two replicate 24.4-ha grazing enclosures contained four forage types: smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis), crested wheatgrass (Agropyron desertorum), western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii) and native range. Each forage type was divided into three sub-areas containing either: a water source, a salt block, or forage deferred from use before the experiment (rested). Resource use was tracked with analysis of aerial photos of the pastures before and after the 3-year study and with weekly direct observation of animal use of each area of the pastures. As each season progressed, use of smooth bromegrass declined and use of crested wheatgrass and western wheatgrass increased. Use of native range remained relatively constant and low throughout the study. The previously rested sub-areas of the replicate pastures had significantly and substantially more grazing than those with salt or water. Significant auto-correlation in the data was well described by an auto-regressive parameter comprised of the sum of the previous 2 weeks grazing time, which showed gradual shifts in forage preference from 1 week to the next. Aerial photo analysis supported the findings of the behavioral data; preference between forage types changed over time, and grazing use within pastures was uneven and negatively correlated with salt and water sites. Cattle can rotate themselves among various pasture types if given free-choice; and season-long grazing may be an effective system if a variety of forage types are available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-42
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Cattle-management systems
  • Cattle-spatial distribution
  • Foraging behaviour
  • Grazing behaviour

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Animals
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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