parched earth

Why Overgrazing Occurs and How to Prevent It

More and more, livestock producers are implementing rotational grazing strategies. Despite this fact, many of these producers are making the same mistake over and over again by grazing their pastures too short and returning animals to the pasture too quickly.

It is a common misconception that overgrazing means putting too many animals on the land. The fact is, however, that it is possible to overgraze with only one type of animal. Therefore, while more animals will certainly speed up the process of overgrazing, overgrazing is less about how many animals are grazing and more about how those animals are managed.

While grazing management used to be considered an art form, this is no longer the case. Intuition has little to do with determining the proper stocking rate. Instead, science is the name of the game. Further, no matter how careful livestock producers are, chances are that every producer will at some point overgraze a paddock. However, if this mistake is repeatedly made, the negative consequences can last for a long time. What follows are some of those negative consequences:

  1. Leaf loss drastically limits a plants ability to recover and regrow. This sets up a cycle of overgrazing again and again.
  2. The ability of plants to regrow new tillers is diminished in the long term.
  3. Weeds begin to multiply and additional weed species are introduced.
  4. Plant regrowth is compromised. Not only will plants have less root mass, they will be shallower. It also will be more difficult for plants to take in water and nutrients.
  5. There is more runoff, soil erosion and evaporation. There also is less water infiltration.
  6. Animals suffer because they eat less.

Overgrazing pastures is especially common during dry weather or when carrying capacity is especially high. Producers often fail to realize they have overgrazed until the damage is done.

To prevent overgrazing, the following steps can be taken:

  • Pasture forage can be supplemented with stored livestock feed
  • Livestock can be pulled off pasture
  • A percentage of pasture acres can be planted for warm- or cool-season species while perennial-species recover

In the end, it is important to remember that no matter what type of animal is on pasture, those animals will always seek out the most nutritious, lush forage available. If those animals aren’t properly managed and rotated, range quality will suffer and overgrazing will occur.