Understanding Overgrazing and How to Prevent It
Farmers often find themselves getting frustrated during the hot summer months when grasses suddenly stop growing, the ground gets compacted, and bothersome weeds seem to be the only vegetation that can gain a foothold on the property.
If you can relate to this, you may be experiencing overgrazing. Luckily, there are many overgrazing solutions available to keep your property up to par with appropriate vegetation!
This article will cover some of the reasons why overgrazing occurs, how it can be prevented, and how your fields can be maintained.
How to Know if You’re Overgrazing
Here are a few things that you should look for if you’re worried that you are overgrazing your fields:
- Bare patches in the field
- Weeds beginning to take over
- Ground appears hard and compact, with little to no new growth
Why Does Overgrazing Occur?
Many factors contribute to overgrazing, but two primary questions you should ask yourself are:
- Has the grass had enough growth and time to rest before putting livestock back on it?
- Is there enough grassland available to sustain livestock without rotational grazing efforts?
If you are unsure about the answer to either of these questions, you should keep reading.
What Happens When You Overgraze Your Property?
When you overgraze your property, more than just the grass is affected. Consider some of these detriments:
- Weakened grasses and root bases
- Soil erosion
- Loss of soil quality
- Loss of water quality
Overgrazing will also allow hardier, undesirable plants (weeds) to take advantage of your desired forage’s weakened root bases and overgrow your field.
Intensive Grazing and Rest Time
Pasture production can be extremely difficult to maintain, especially during the hot summer months when drought conditions worsen. Maintaining proper rest periods for your pastures throughout the entire year will help you prepare for summer months when most overgrazing occurs.
Grazing a field before the forage has had time to recover from the last season is sometimes called intensive grazing, which leads to overgrazed pastures.
Livestock typically prefer to graze on young plants that are rich in protein, so intervention on your part is necessary to keep them from desolating a field by targeting new grasses and seeds as they come up (and before they are ready to be grazed).
To prevent intensive grazing, you may need to move the livestock on a regular basis. This type of system is called rotational grazing, and it is contingent upon the amount of land available to your program. Rotational grazing generally involves putting livestock on smaller tracts of land, and only leaving them for a few days before moving them to another small area.
Potential benefits of rotational grazing:
- Even manure distribution
- Allows plants to initiate regrowth
- Promotes higher yield
The rest period for each lot is going to depend on the size of the field, amount of animals put on it, the types of grass in that pasture, and location. Talking to your local extension agent will help you identify how long each field should rest and at what point reintroducing livestock is appropriate.
Degradation of grassland goes hand in hand with soil quality. Overgrazing a pasture severely impacts the quality of the soil and the biodiversity of the land’s ecosystem.
Soil quality is generally valued on a soil quality index, also called SQI. When pastures are overgrazed, the SQI goes down, and weeds and other undesirable vegetation are given room to grow. Lower SQI is an indicator of soil erosion, which may lead to steep drops in yield because the desired forage will have a weakened root base and vital minerals and nutrients may be lost to water runoff and erosion.
Loss of soil quality typically comes with loss of water quality, which can be harmful to livestock. This is because eroded soil allows sediments and animal waste to run off into surface water, altering the natural biodiversification of the surface waters and soil.
Chemical runoff is also cause for concern. Fertilizing your grasslands may seem like a simple solution for regrowth, but if the land is overgrazed, the soil erosion already present can cause larger amounts of fertilizer to contaminate the quality of the water supply.
How Can Poor Soil Quality be Improved?
Poor soil quality may be improved by allowing a rest period and rebuilding your pasture's root bases and soil quality.
Grasslands that have already been overgrazed will need much longer rest periods to begin regrowing, and they may also need to be reseeded if the livestock caused significant damage.
Brush-hogging the weeds in the field will also give the grass more room to grow and more time to reestablish healthy root bases again while simultaneously choking out the undesired vegetation.
Overgrazing puts soil, water, vegetation, and livestock at risk. To prevent overgrazing and regrow grassland, try:
- Rotational grazing
- Longer rest periods for pastureland
- Brush Hogging weeds
- Consulting with an expert on land management