Watch Those Hooves

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 8, 2010

Keeping cattle from woodlands and streams can benefit wildlife, landowners and livestock.

In southern Missouri, many cattle producers give their animals free run of their land. This approach to grazing cattle is less a strategy than a way of life. Because they've been producing livestock this way for so long, some landowners balk at the very idea of excluding cattle from woodlands, streams and other sensitive areas.

This is unfortunate because many areas that have been left to cattle could well be valuable to landowners for reasons other than livestock production. Managing them for other uses can pay big benefits for landowners, as well as for livestock and the land itself.

Landowners often say that cattle need forested areas for shade in the summer and for protection from winter winds. Wooded cover does serve these purposes, but wooded areas are also important for wildlife and timber production, and aesthetic values.

As management intensive grazing gains popularity in Missouri, many livestock producers are fencing cattle out of the timbered portions of their property. However, they don't necessarily exclude cattle from all forests. With careful planning, they incorporate wooded areas into their grazing strategies by identifying which areas are best for producing forage crops and which are better for timber or wildlife. Small wooded areas, for example, might provide shade and shelter for livestock, while the remaining forest land is managed for high-quality timber production or wildlife habitat that provides hunting opportunities.

Excluding livestock from forest land helps preserve the integrity of the land. It's no secret that livestock can damage delicate forest soils. Cattle hooves crush, chop and destroy the duff layer and leaf litter on the forest floor, increasing the likliehood of it washing away in heavy rain. Without these layers of organic matter, thin Ozark soils are highly vulnerable to erosion. The reduction of soil exposes tree roots, allowing hooves to damage root surfaces. These "open wounds" invite invasions of fungi, insects and bacteria that can damage tree health and greatly reduce the market value of the timber.

Unlike deer, which are browsers, cattle are grazers, but in a forest they will eat whatever they can reach. This not only reduces the amount of wildlife the land can support (carrying capacity), but woodland forage can also be harmful to cattle. The leaves and acorns of oaks, for example, contain tannic acid, which reduces milk production in cattle. Milk is not a primary product of beef cattle,

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