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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Rotational grazing on rangelands: Reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence

Authors
item Briske, D. - TEXAS A&M
item Derner, Justin
item Brown, J. - NRCS-JORNADA
item Fuhlendorf, S. - OKLAHOMA STATE UNIV
item Teague, W. - TEXAS A&M
item Havstad, Kris
item Gillen, R. - KANSAS STATE UNIV
item Ash, A. - CSIRO
item Willms, W. - AGR. & AGRI-FOOD, CANADA

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: September 15, 2007
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: This paper reports on an analysis of 49 studies of rotational to continuous livestock grazing systems where the experimental design was complete enough and thorough enough to allow comparison. Despite wide spread popularity of rotational livestock systems, and a commonly help perception that these systems had economic and ecological benefits, this analysis did not support this perception. For example, plant production was equal or greater for continuous compared to rotational for 87% of these studies. Annual production (either per head or per unit area) was equal or greater for continuous compared to rotation for at least 84% of these studies. Stocking rates and weather, and not stock rotations, are the primary effects on grazed rangelands.

Technical Abstract: In spite of overwhelming experimental evidence to the contrary, rotational grazing continues to be promoted and implemented as the only viable grazing strategy. The goals of this synthesis are to 1) reevaluate the complexity, underlying assumptions, and ecological processes of grazed ecosystems, 2) qualitatively summarize plant and animal production responses to rotational and continuous grazing, 3) characterize the prevailing perceptions influencing the assessment of rotational and continuous grazing, and 4) attempt to direct the profession toward a reconciliation of perceptions advocating support for rotational grazing systems with that of the experimental evidence. The ecological relationships of grazing systems have been reasonably well resolved, at the scales investigated, and a continuation of costly grazing experiments adhering to conventional research protocols will yield little additional information. Plant production was equal or greater in continuous compared to rotational grazing in 87% (20 of 23) of the experiments. Similarly, animal production per head and per area were equal or greater in continuous compared to rotational grazing in 92% (35 of 38) and 84% (27 of 32) of the experiments, respectively. These experimental data demonstrate that a set of potentially effective grazing strategies exist, none of which have unique properties that set one apart from the other in terms of ecological effectiveness. The performance of rangeland grazing strategies are similarly constrained by several ecological variables establishing that differences among them are dependent upon the effectiveness of management models, rather than the occurrence of unique ecological phenomena. Continued advocacy for rotational grazing as a superior strategy of grazing on rangelands is founded on perception and anecdotal interpretations, rather than an objective assessment of the vast experimental evidence. We recommend that these evidence-based conclusions be explicitly incorporated into management and policy decisions addressing this predominant land use on rangelands.

Last Modified: 4/19/2014
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