Structural heterogeneity and productivity of a tall fescue pasture grazed rotationally by cattle at four stocking densities

TitleStructural heterogeneity and productivity of a tall fescue pasture grazed rotationally by cattle at four stocking densities
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsCid M.S., Ferri C.M, Brizuela M.A., Sala O.E
JournalGrassland Science
Date Published2008
Keywordsarticle, cattle grazing management, cattle grazing, effects on plants, cattle grazing, forage utilization, cattle grazing, productivity, cattle grazing, structural heterogeneity, cattle grazing, vegetation change, grazing management, cattle, journal

The spatial heterogeneity in the structure and the productivity of the vegetation was examined in a tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) pasture rotationally grazed at four stocking densities in the Pampean region of Argentina. The examined pasture was grazed at the stocking densities of 3.6, 4.6, 5.6 and 6.6 animals ha−1 with a two‐paddock 14‐day rotational grazing system. Spatial distribution of plant height was examined as well as the percentages of short patch area (heavily utilized patches) or tall patch area (areas ungrazed or lightly defoliated). In addition, biomass, growth rate and relative growth rate were assessed for both short and tall patches. Grazing generated patchiness in vegetation structure and growth at all stocking densities. Increased stocking density caused an increase in the percentage of the short patch area in the paddocks. Short patches had relatively less live biomass than tall ones, but their relative growth rate was 31% higher than that of tall patches (0.021 ± 0.007 vs 0.016 ± 0.005 g DM g DM−1 day−1). The increase in stocking density enlarged the proportion of short patch areas with higher relative growth rate. The relative growth rate (average between short and tall patches) of the two highest stocking densities was 61.7% higher than that of the low stocking density treatments (0.023 ± 0.006 vs 0.014 ± 0.004 g DM g DM−1 day−1). Although the growth rate of the short patches did not exceed the value of the tall patches, the high value of relative growth rate appeared to indicate a higher photosynthetic capacity of the short patches. Moreover, live biomass did not decrease during the experimental period even in the short patch areas showing that, in the particular conditions of our study, overgrazing did not occur at the range of the stocking density examined.