Cattle and White-Tailed Deer Competition for Forbs

Most rangeland managers profess one of three beliefs: 1) cattle grazing is a tool to improve white-tailed deer habitat, assuming that the land is not overgrazed; 2) cattle grazing and deer browsing complement one another and result in wise use of rangelands; or 3) cattle grazing destroys deer and other wildlife habitat. These competing beliefs have not been evaluated in the South Texas Sand Sheet, a region heavily-influenced by frequent periods of drought and where all three beliefs abound.

The East Foundation is committed to finding solutions for both wildlife conservation and livestock production. We have initiated a project aimed at evaluating the influences of cattle grazing on grasses and forbs preferred by white-tailed deer. This project is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind to occur in the United States.

Each year, 300 vegetation plots were protected from grazing and 300 plots were not protected from grazing across four of the Foundation’s ranches. Each plot was then evaluated for species richness and biomass of grasses and forbs. From these, annual estimates of grazing intensity and standing crop were generated.

Though on-going, this project has produced several important findings.

  • Cattle grazing intensity was high in both 2012 (60–88%) and 2013 (49–69%); the 11–19% average reduction in cattle grazing intensity between 2012 and 2013 resulted from an overall reduction in cattle inventory
  • Drought conditions heavily influenced standing crop; for example, standing crop of grasses and forbs more than doubled at Buena Vista and Santa Rosa from 2012 (severe drought conditions) to 2013
  • Precipitation received in September 2013, just prior to sampling of plots, allowed for a 2-fold increase in the standing crop of forbs preferred by white-tailed deer, demonstrating the resiliency of native vegetation with rainfall in South Texas
  • As cattle grazing intensity increased, standing crop of preferred deer forages decreased when average rainfall was received for 6 months; however, no relationship between cattle grazing intensity and standing crop of preferred forbs was detected when average rainfall was not met for most of the year

Ranching and wildlife conservation go together. The East Foundation is committed to determining ways in which cattle grazing can be used enhance white-tailed deer habitat.

Partner: Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute

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