Heterogeneous distribution of ungulates about the landscape can be a particularly vexing problem for resource managers. Although livestock preferences for leaves over stems among plants and patches of herbage are well documented, effects of senescent forage (herbage supporting both green and cured materials) on cattle distribution and nutrition at pasture scales have not been investigated. Our primary objective was to determine the proportions of time cattle spent foraging within senescent and conditioned sectors (areas supporting only current season's herbage) of pastures. Other endeavors included the following: comparing velocities of foraging cattle in conditioned and senescent sectors, determining diet quality of cattle confined to conditioned and senescent treatments, and quantifying levels of forage utilization by cattle in conditioned and senescent treatments. Global positioning system collars were used to track cattle movement and activity in treated crested wheatgrass (Agropyron desertorum [Fisher ex Link] Schultes) pastures. Over a 7-day trial, cattle were found in senescent and conditioned areas 41% and 59% of the time, respectively. When cattle were grazing, 32% of observations were in senescent sectors and 68% were in conditioned areas. With a decline in standing crop in the conditioned treatment, cattle switched to senescent herbage (73% of observations) on day 7. Standing crop was reduced by 13% to 40% in conditioned sectors and increased by 10% in senescent areas. Despite disparities in the crude protein of standing crops in senescent (x̄ = 6.5%) and conditioned (x̄ = 11.3%) treatments, cattle confined to treatment harvested diets of similar quality (x̄ = 13.6% CP) at turn-out. Cattle walked farther when making transitions between treatments, and walked farther each day as the trial progressed. A preference of foraging cattle for portions of pastures grazed (conditioned areas) during the previous growing season suggests that utilization patterns established by livestock are self-sustaining.
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Vol. 59 • No. 2