Cattle Grazing Dispersion Methods and Riparian Ecosystems

1995 Annual Report for AW95-102

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1995: $0.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Matching Federal Funds: $60,000.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $75,381.00
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Patrick A. Momont
Univ. of ID, Dept. of Animal & Vet. Sci.

Cattle Grazing Dispersion Methods and Riparian Ecosystems


1.Determine the impacts of cattle dispersion methods for relieving grazing stresses on riparian ecosystems.
2.Determine the economic feasibility of cattle dispersion methods.
3.Demonstrate riparian area and cattle dispersion management practices in a visibly comparative field trial.
A two-year grazing study evaluating the effects of cattle dispersion methods on riparian ecosystems was completed. Cattle grazing and riparian health issues are currently at the forefront of public and rancher concerns in the Northwest. A ballot initiative in Oregon proposed that cattle be fenced out of all riparian areas located in critical habitat stream segments. In southwest Idaho, the current BLM Resource Management Plan proposes a 35 percent reduction in animal unit months that would eliminate cattle grazing in those allotments after July 15 to reduce the impacts of cattle grazing on riparian areas. Research findings and the demonstrative value of this study are timely and extremely important to ranchers, as well as recreationalists, environmentalists and agency personnel. The critical need for this type of project is evidenced by the number of stakeholders that have become cooperators. Clientele interest has been high, especially concerning the ram pump water system and the use of GPS as it relates to cattle behavior and site mapping.

Site construction, forage evaluation, riparian, transitional zone and upland bio-assessment, water quality analysis, cattle performance and behavior, site mapping, economic analyses, and two field days have been completed. The treatments consisted of grazing with alternative water and supplementation (trace mineral salt) sources, grazing with no alternative water or supplementation and no grazing. Each treatment was replicated three times for a total of nine pastures that provided visual across-fence comparisons. The study was replicated over two years. The project was designed to evaluate the economic impacts of developing off-stream water on ranches in the Pacific Northwest. The ACE grant (a portion of the project was funded through SARE/ACE) and matching state dollars provided funding for the first year. State funds and contributions from the Blue Mountains Natural Resources Institute were used to complete the second year.
Cattle behavior and distribution, cow/calf performance, forage utilization, riparian bio- assessments and greenline were affected by treatments. Off-stream water and salt more evenly distributed cattle in each pasture throughout the grazing season. Providing off-stream water eliminated the requirement for cattle to return to the riparian area at mid-day where cattle drank and then spent several hours “loafing” (resting). Economic analyses indicate that the off-stream water development was profitable, with initial costs and maintenance off set by improved cow/calf performance, reduced grazing pressure on riparian forage and likelihood of meeting environmental goals.

Cross-fencing, working facilities, alternative water and supplementation sources were constructed. Aerial photography and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) analysis were completed for mapping and “ground truthing” purposes. These maps were used to aid in monitoring cattle behavior, establishing vegetative species distribution and canopy cover, identify riparian, transitional and upland boundaries and determine other topographical attributes of the research site that could affect cattle distribution.

Economic Analysis
The economic analysis of this project contained three stages. The first was to discover the current economic circumstances of ranchers. This information formed the foundation for the second stage in which the economic feasibility of the project was determined. The results from the feasibility analysis were then used in the third stage to formulate policy implications and recommendations.

Implementation of the dispersion method will directly impact ranchers’ budgets through the initial expense of equipment purchases and increased operating costs. A developed comparison among different water systems (such as solar powered pumps, water rams and transporting water) provides ranchers with the necessary data to determine which system best fits their needs. Preliminary animal performance data, which indicate average daily gains are increased through the dispersion method, translates into additional income for the ranches. An economic feasibility document was produced showing ranchers when the system will pay for itself.

To evaluate the policy implications of the project, a dynamic program was constructed that models a 300-head cow/calf operation. Using a long-term planning horizon, it shows the changes in profitability of the ranch when various scenarios are introduced. For example, how do net returns change when the water dispersion project is implemented and the riparian area is excluded from cattle? This will be an important tool for management of riparian areas in livestock operations.

Potential Contributions
While the benefits from the research side of the project are not yet realized, the project has generated enthusiasm among the various clientele groups that have concerns over cattle grazing in riparian areas. The startup money provided by SARE/ACE led to other funding sources and a commitment by the Universities to undertake this effort. A “snowball” effect has occurred, with commodity groups and individuals becoming involved after they recognized the benefits of this cooperative project. With new stakeholder groups participating, the pathways for disseminating information from this study have increased.

Farmer Adoption and Direct Impact
Before management practices that affect livestock production and environmental sustainability are incorporated into ranch systems, the economic analysis can now be assessed to determine feasibility. Extension programs are in place to demonstrate the results of the project, and requests for detailed information from the project are numerous. Comments from the clientele groups indicate that multi-disciplinary projects like this are critical to continued wise use of our natural resources.

Requests for this type of information indicate that ranchers as well as agency personnel are extremely interested in incorporating results from this study into their resource management plans. Funding is available for watershed programs on private and public lands and this information creates the framework to model where improvements will be beneficial and cost effective. Those ranchers with water systems already in place are using this information to validate their investments.

Ranchers have indicated that this is the type of project we should have been doing all along. They appreciate the group effort and rancher involvement. The combination of research and extension working together with various interest groups will avoid problems when it comes time to incorporate results into ranch management plans.

New Hypotheses
Along with off-stream watering and supplementation, topographical and biological elements must be factored into cattle behavior and the impacts of cattle grazing on riparian ecosystems. Through the use of Global Positioning Systems, aerial photography and intensive pasture data collections, much of this data has been collected and will be incorporated into a whole ranch system model along with an economic analysis. This approach will improve our ability to effectively disseminate the information, and better ensure assimilation of beneficial grazing practices into western ranches.

Dissemination of information through field days, popular press articles and stakeholder meetings has been ongoing and requests for summary information are numerous.

Reported in 1998


Tim DelCurto

Oregon State Univ.
OR 97883
Neil Rimbey

University of Idaho
ID 83605