OSU finds that cattle and prairie can coexist

cattle on prairie
Cattle graze on the Zumwalt Prairie. (Photo: Lynn Ketchum)

Study looked at relationship between cows, plants, insects, soil and birds

The Zumwalt is the most extensive swath of Pacific Northwest bunchgrass prairie in North America and it's a haven for birds of prey. Spalding’s catchfly, a wildflower that is federally listed as threatened, blooms there. Snake River steelhead, also threatened, spawn in the prairie’s streams. About 50 species of butterflies flitter about, and elk, mule deer and bobcats find shelter in the rolling fields and wooded slopes. A seasonal home for cattle since the area was homesteaded in the 19th century, about 10,000 cows now graze the prairie each summer. But ranchers and conservationists wanted to know how these cattle affect the prairie.

So researchers from OSU's Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Union grazed different numbers of cows to see how they impacted plants, insects, soil, ground-nesting birds—and each other. They watched each bite that the cows took and also examined the contents of their stomachs.

The research found that at moderate numbers, similar to ranchers' current use (20 mother and calf pairs per 100 acres for six weeks), the flora and fauna didn't suffer, and the cows maintained a marketable weight.

Source: Pat Kennedy, OSU wildlife biologist

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