Cows Influence Plant Composition of Pastures

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 (Image: Pixabay © CC0)

(Image: Pixabay © CC0)

Angus, or Scottish Highland: not all cows are the same when it comes to a preference for different shrub, herbaceous and grass species. Research work carried out by Agroscope with the Universities of Heidelberg and Göttingen in Germany shows that cattle breed influences the botanical composition of pasture.

It’s been known for some time now that through their consumption patterns, cattle, sheep and goats influence what plants grow on their pastures; less well known, however, is the impact on vegetation of grazing by different cattle breeds.  Production-oriented breeds like Charolais, Angus, Braunvieh and Simmental differ from robust breeds such as Scottish Highland or Galloway cattle in terms of forage requirement, growth rate and weight. They also exhibit different behaviour in terms of movement and choice of forage.

Highland Cattle Play Starring Role in Research Project

In order to find out what effect cattle breed has on pasture vegetation, researchers at Agroscope and the Universities of Heidelberg and Göttingen in Germany compared the botanical composition of pastureland that had been grazed for years by Highland cattle with adjoining pastureland grazed by more-intensively reared cattle breeds. Altogether, the research team examined 50 pastures on 25 sites in mountain regions in Switzerland and southern Germany.

Clear Differences in Biodiversity and Percentage of Shrubs

The study, which was recently published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, showed clear differences between the different cattle breeds: regardless of the site, significantly more plants with a high tolerance to grazing and trampling grew on pasture used to graze production-oriented breeds. On pastures used to graze Highland cattle, there were more species whose seeds spread by attachment to the animals’ pelt. All in all, Highland cattle pastures boasted greater species diversity than the reference pastures. Researchers also observed that the longer this cattle breed was on a pasture, the clearer the difference in biodiversity. Moreover, the percentage of shrubs on the Highland cattle pastures was lower than on the reference pastures - an indication that Highland cattle are less choosy in their choice of forage.

Publication:

Pauler C.M., Isselstein J., Braunbeck T., Schneider M.K. (2019). Influence of Highland and production-oriented cattle breeds on pasture vegetation: a pairwise assessment across broad environmental gradients. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment.

Documents

  • Production-oriented cattle breeds (further back) and Scottish Highland cattle have different forage preferences. (Photo: Agroscope) (JPG, 4 MB)