Seeing the grazing forest through the rangeland trees

Stocking rate It needs to be calculated basis what cattle will eat, not total production

Forests provide 45 per cent of public grazing land in Alberta, but many graziers don’t see their potential, says Donna Lawrence, a boreal forest rangeland specialist with the Rangeland Management Branch of Alberta Environment.

“Forested rangelands are more susceptible to grazing, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be grazed sustainably,” Lawrence told the 10th annual Original Grazing School for women.

She said almost all forage in a forest comes from shrubs and forbs (non-weedy flowering plants) rather than grasses. Forested rangelands have variable plant communities based on soil and typography, and cattle will not graze everything, so it’s important to know what shrubs the animals will choose to graze, Lawrence said.

That makes stocking rates especially important. They should not be based on total production, because cattle will only eat some of the species.

“Stocking rates are based on feasibility. Don’t plan on grazing everything, because livestock have preferences,” Lawrence said.

She said cattle will graze raspberry, rose, Saskatoon and red osier dogwood, but will not graze hazelnut or buffaloberry if given a choice.

Alberta Agriculture’s publication Northern range plants (Agdex 134/420-1, $25) can help graziers assess the forage value and palatability of various species to determine stocking rates.

Lawrence recommended 25 per cent of a forested area be grazed, and 75 per cent be left as carryover. It takes about five times as much forested rangeland as tame pasture to maintain a bovine animal.

Cattle may also need some encouragement to graze forested rangelands, Lawrence said. They might need to be fenced or lured with water and salt in a way that forces them into the bush, away from their preferred range.

Grasses, forbs and shrubs all need rest periods within the growing season, Lawrence said. When a shrub is grazed too deeply, animals will often eat into the second- or third-year wood, which limits regrowth. Forested rangelands take longer to green up than tame pastures, so are not suited to early-spring grazing. They are best suited to a one-time summer graze, when production is best.

Lawrence said cattle cannot survive only on forested pasture, but need access to tame or native rangeland as well. Rotational grazing, and making good use of fencing, herding or other practices will push cattle into forested areas and encourage them to graze there. Smaller paddocks result in less selectivity. Lawrence recommended separating salt licks from water areas to encourage grazing. “Why not use that salt, throw it into the area that they’re not using, and force them to go into that area? They’ll be grazing along the way,” she said.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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