Can Cattle And Trees Get Along? – for Aug. 5, 2010

A10-year study just east of Duck Mountain Provincial Park is finding cattle and logging can coexist.

“Timber harvesting and livestock grazing has always been seen as conflicting resource use,” said Bill Gardiner, a MAFRI rangelands specialist based in Dauphin, in a presentation on the 10-year Garland Project.

When Louisiana-Pacific began harvesting hardwoods on leased Crown lands in the area in the mid-1990s, government officials decided to try optimizing beef production and logging on the same land.

“The objective of the project at that time was to demonstrate managed grazing systems on hardwood-harvested areas which can provide livestock benefits as well as allow for optimum regrowth to meet provincial hardwood stocking standards for future timber harvesting,” said Gardiner, on one stop of the recent Provincial Grazing Tour.

Project partners included provincial ministries, logging companies, PFRA, and the AAFC Brandon research centre.

DIVIDED

Half of the timber on the 100 per cent forest-covered half section, mainly poplars, was harvested in the winter and the other half in summer, then divided up into four 64-acre paddocks and stocked with cattle under different stocking rates. Two-acre control blocks were fenced off from the cattle.

The timber, rated Class Three, wasn’t the best, said Gardiner, but the site was chosen because it was a good representation of the majority of the province’s timber resource.

The loggers ended up taking about 75 per cent of the stand – a typical percentage – leaving the stumps. The only difference from normal practices was that limbing and topping was done at the roadsides, which ended up being along the fencelines.

The impact from both perspectives was studied: grazing vis-a-vis timber regrowth, and how logging affected beef production.

A consultant is currently working on a final report, and a policy for co-management will be forthcoming.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Current recommendations state that post-harvest, no livestock should be allowed onto the land in the first year to allow the trees to get a head start.

Clayton Robins, a beef researcher from AAFC Brandon who also farms near Rivers, visited the site periodically over the past decade to collect data.

“When we first started here, we were walking the site just after the harvest in spring, and I didn’t know where the grass plants were going to come from because it looked pretty ugly,” said Robins. “There were no crowns and bare ground, and lots of scrub lying everywhere.”

The first year of grazing came at the expense of the 42 head of cattle on a total of 240 acres, but the winter-harvested paddocks saw a lot more low-level browsing vegetation than the summer-harvested area. With very little grass, the cattle were forced to graze less desirable woody species.

“In the summer-( June) harvested blocks, it was completely the opposite,” he said. “There was a lot of disturbance and with the rest of the season to grow, we saw a lot of grasses and legumes come in, even some timothy.”

ABUNDANT GRASS

By the second year, grass was abundant in the summer-harvested area. In the winter-harvested area, it took a few years before the level of residue was sufficient to support grass regrowth. However, the cattle still managed “very acceptable” gains, even though they were forced to browse shrubs.

In the summer-harvested areas, the stocking rate never exceeded the pasture capacity, and a “huge” level of carryover was seen each year which helped to improve grass production over time, said Robins.

The poplars took over much faster in the winter-harvested areas. If the goal is to assist forest regrowth, grazing should be delayed the first year, and for as long as possible in the spring.

After extensive data collection in the first five years, the researchers left and didn’t come back for five years. Robins, who had expected the trees to have completely taken over, was surprised to see that the pasture/forest split overall had remained mostly unchanged.

In the summer-harvested area, however, the aspen had returned in dramatic fashion.

“It was to the point that it was starting to be more acceptable to the guys on the tree side,” he said.

SHARING POSSIBLE

Beef production, he added, would likely continue unchanged until the trees grow tall enough to close the canopy and shade the grasses.

Gardiner noted ranchers on Crown leases often wonder how sharing land with loggers, and keeping stocking rates low enough to let the trees grow back, can benefit them.

“I remember what you could graze on this half section prior to the harvest. It wouldn’t have held 15 cow-calf pairs for the whole summer,” he said. “We’ve been keeping 42 grassers on here for 13 years now. I don’t know how much longer we can go, but I certainly see that as an agricultural benefit.”

For ranchers who want to beat the trees back on their own property, he advised “high-intensity, low-duration” grazing strategy that starts early in the year. [email protected]

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Whenwefirststarted here,wewerewalking thesitejustafterthe harvestinspring,andI didn’tknowwherethe grassplantsweregoing tocomefrombecause itlookedprettyugly.”

– CLAYTON ROBINS

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