UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences


Prescribed Grazing to Restore Rangeland Soil Quality, Plant Diversity, Water Quality, and Agricultural Productivity

Partners: K.W. Tate, L.M. Roche, J.D. Derner, V.T. Eviner, M.N. Lubell, A.T. O'Geen, M.R. George, B. Cutts, E. Kachergis, L. Jasny, T. Schohr


Herding Stockers at SFREC
Rangelands in the western US are at risk due to factors such as weed invasion, improper grazing, energy development, and climate change. Improper livestock grazing can negatively impact various rangeland ecosystem functions and services. Alternatively, grazing practices can enhance plant diversity, carbon storage, suppress weeds, mitigate climate change impacts, and enhance various ecosystem functions. Practical, effective grazing management strategies must be identified, confirmed by research and broad manager agreement, and extended to managers to promote grazing which simultaneously enhances multiple rangeland ecosystem services. Grazing management decisions cannot focus solely on optimizing annual ranch proceeds. Grazing management must sustain ecosystem functions and services necessary for the long-term ecological health of the system and the dependent ranch enterprise.

Determining what constitutes proper prescribed grazing remains problematic largely due, in our opinion, to inadequate exchange of information or perspective about management practices between the range science and ranch management communities. Managers often focus on operational and socio-economic outcomes at the ranch-scale, while researchers emphasize ecological processes of vegetation-soil-herbivore interactions within plant communities and ecological sites. These are both valid scales at which to evaluate grazing management, but we must bridge the gap in scale and communication in order to integrate prescribed grazing research and management expertise to advise ranch managers. The problem is not a lack of management expertise or research results, rather in the integration of this information for application at the ranch enterprise scale.

We are working directly with the ranching communities in Wyoming, Colorado, and California to integrate management expertise, ranch-scale research, and existing research information to identify and extend practical grazing options to optimize interdependent agricultural, economic, and ecological services. By working across these representative agroecosystems, the information developed from this project will have applicability across millions of acres. This participatory, long-term study will connect social networking and decision making analyses with agricultural and ecological outcomes.


Rangeland Decision-Making Survey

Rangeland Decision--Making Survey Cover

Over the past two years, we surveyed over 1700 ranchers and rangeland managers in California and 500 ranchers in Wyoming. The survey was designed to determine social-cultural-economic-institutional factors driving grazing decisions; to understand how managers receive, assess, and use grazing management information; and to determine their perspectives on adaptive grazing management for multiple goals.

We are currently analyzing survey results out of this effort. So far, from the California surveys, we have identified 4 ranked tiers of rangeland management goals among ranchers:

1. Livestock and Forage Production
2. Water Quality, Invasive Weed Management, and Soil Health
3. Riparian/Meadow Health and Wildlife
4. Recreation and Carbon Sequestration

Initial analyses of management strategies have revealed that ranchers adapt grazing strategies to fit their goals and local conditions. We've also found that rotational grazing practices in California are most prevalent among ranchers who consider themselves to be experimenters.

More results can be found at the following links:
Integrating Ecosystem Services into Adaptive Rangeland Management, Mark Lubell, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, UC Davis >>More

Ranch Management Tools for a Water-Scarce Region, Ken Tate, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis >>More


Adaptive Grazing Management Project at the Sierra Foothill Research & Extenstion Center (SFREC)

Turning stockers out for grazing management project at SFREC

California's 16 million acre annual rangeland ecosystem provides critical livestock forage to support rural agricultural economies, houses the most diverse plant and animal communities in the state, and supplies drinking water supplies to millions of residents. Restoration efforts in this ecosystem must be based upon a clear understanding of social, ecological, and business factors determining ranch level grazing management decisions and ecosystem responses.

One of our primary goals for the Adaptive Grazing Management Project is to identify and extend practical, cost-effective land management practices through stakeholder participation and integrated research and management approaches. This is part of the processes we have all embarked on to improve communication and collaboration between research scientists and practitioners.

In May of 2012, we held two workshops at SFREC hosting over 50 total participants representing diverse stakeholder groups—including ranchers, range scientists, and conservation range managers. During these workshops and field visits, we asked participants to tell us: 1) what they think should be primary natural resource/agricultural goals; 2) potential challenges/opportunities for these goals; and 3) adaptive management strategies they believe would achieve these goals.

Based on input and discussions from these two workshops, our research team developed the following sets of adaptive grazing management treatments for the grassland (4 pastures) and oak woodland (4 pastures) blocks:

Map of SFREC and Treatments for Grassland and Oak pastures
Table Describing Treatmenst T1, T2, T3, T4






The 4 month Fall/Spring Grazing (T2) and the 4 month Fall/Spring-Targeted Grazing (T3) treatments were identified by participants for specific weed management goals. Participants based these recommendations based on both research plot-scale experimental evidence and experiential knowledge which suggest that properly timed (late-season, pre-flowering phenological stages) and intensive (high animal density for high pressure on vegetation) grazing can reduce cover of noxious weeds, such as medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae). For these treatments, cattle will be stocked at 0.20 AUs/acre (oak pastures) and 0.45 AUs/acre (grassland pastures) for ~ 2-months during the fall (thatch breakdown) and spring (target medusahead during the most vulnerable phenological stages). The 4-month Fall/Spring-Targeted Grazing (T3) will also integrate temporary electric fencing for further targeting of weed patches. The Winter Grazing treatment (T4) will serve as interim pasture for the T3 treatment, allowing us to follow that herd's performance throughout the year. The 7-month Continuous Grazing treatment (T1) will be stocked at moderate stocking densities (0.10 AUs/acre (oak pastures) and 0.25 AUs/acre (grassland pastures)), based on long-term grazing records from SFREC—serving as a positive control. Durations of grazing for all treatments are approximate and will be adapted in consultation with the stakeholder advisory group.

Stocker Cattle Grazing on Grassland Pasture at SFREC

Upcoming Project Events- As of Nov. 5th, we have stockers on the ground at SFREC. Prescribed grazing treatment implementation will start in early December, under the guidance of our stakeholder advisory group.

Please stay tuned for new project updates and photos!

For more information please contact Leslie Roche at lmroche@ucdavis.edu or Ken Tate at kwtate@ucdavis.edu.






USDA National Institue of Food and Agriculture
Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education

© 2011-2012 UC Davis | California Rangeland Watershed Laboratory | One Shields Ave | Davis, CA 95616 | Last update: September 26, 2013