The University of Arizona

Cattle trampling of simulated ground nests in rotationally grazed pastures.

L. Paine, D.J. Undersander, D.W. Sample, G.A. Bartelt, T.A. Schatteman


For many grassland songbird species, pastures represent some of the best available breeding habitat in the Upper Midwest. Increasing interest in intensive rotational grazing (IRG) among midwestern livestock farmers may result in an expansion of pasture hectares in the region. We evaluated the effects of several cattle stocking densities on ground nest survival in rotationally grazed cool-season pastures in southwestern Wisconsin. Ground nests were simulated with clutches of 3 unwashed pheasant eggs. We tested 3 rotational grazing systems: a 1-day dairy rotation stocked at 60 head ha-1; a 4-day beef rotation at 15 head ha-1; and a traditional, non-intensive 7-day rotation at 8 head ha-1. Paddock size (1.2 ha) and nest density (15 nests paddock(-1)) were held constant. The simulated nests were observed 4 times day(-1) to document trampling patterns during the herds' diurnal grazing and rumination cycles. Trampling damaged a mean of 75% (+/- 3.1%) of the nests for all 3 treatments during 8 consecutive replications. While the 7-day treatment exhibited a pattern of greater nest trampling during cattle grazing periods than during rumination periods, this pattern was less evident in the 4-day treatment and absent in the 1-day treatment. Increasing vegetation height-density and percent vegetation cover were associated with reduced nest trampling rates, but pasture forage production and removal were not associated with nest damage.


pheasants;birds' nests;Wisconsin;wild birds;stocking rate;rotational grazing;grazing intensity;cattle

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