Integrating space and time: a case for phenological context in grazing studies and management
. USDA-Agriculture Research Service, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA.. Department of Animal and Range Sciences, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA.. Facultad de Agronomía, Universidad Nacional de La Pampa, Santa Rosa, La Pampa, CP 6300, Argentina
Available online: 2018-03-21
In water-limited landscapes, patterns in primary production are highly variable across space and time. Livestock grazing is a common agricultural practice worldwide and a concern is localized overuse of specific pasture resources that can exacerbate grass losses and soil erosion. On a research ranch in New Mexico with average annual rainfall of 217 mm, we demonstrate with a quantitative approach that annual seasons vary greatly and examine foraging patterns in Angus-Hereford ( ) cows. We define five seasonal stages based on MODIS NDVI: pre-greenup, greenup, peak green, drydown and dormant, and examine livestock movements in 2008. Daily distance traveled by cows was greater and foraging area expanded during periods with higher precipitation. A regression model including minimum NDVI, rainfall and their interaction explained 81% of the seasonal variation in distance traveled by cows ( <0.01). Cows explored about 81 ha·d while foraging, but tended to explore smaller areas as the pasture became greener (greenup and peak green stages). Cows foraged an average of 9.7 h daily and spent more time foraging with more concentrated search patterns as pastures became greener. Our findings suggest that phenological context can expand the capacity to compare and integrate findings, and facilitate meta-analyses of grazing studies conducted at different locations and times of year.