Rotational grazing management approaches are regarded as strategies for sustaining rangeland productivity and continue to be applied across many parts of the world. In Africa, livestock farmers implementing rotational grazing often switch from traditional loosely bunched herding (LBH), in which animals within a herd are allowed to spread out naturally when foraging, to tightly bunched herding (TBH) with limited herd spread to increase animal impact on the range. However, there is little scientific information on the actual direct (short-term) effects of this altered herding strategy on livestock productivity. We investigated the direct effects of TBH versus LBH on foraging behavior, nutrition, and performance (weight gain) of cattle in a semiarid savanna rangeland in central Kenya. We conducted the study across two habitat types: a heterogeneous red soil habitat and a relatively homogeneous black cotton soil habitat. Across both habitats, cattle traveled 9–15% less, foraged 10–29% more efficiently, and put on 14–39% more weight when managed with TBH as compared with LBH. These changes occurred despite the fact that stock densities were double to several times higher under TBH, and cattle under this herding regime foraged less selectively, consuming preferred plants less (especially in the black cotton soil habitat) and consuming diets with lower crude protein content (in the red soil habitat). Financial projection showed that the benefit of increased cattle performance under TBH could sufficiently outweigh increased cost of additional labor required to implement this herding strategy. These findings suggest that TBH, as practiced here, can be implemented without livestock production or financial losses. Further, the research demonstrated reduced grazing selectivity under TBH indicates that this herding strategy could potentially be used to reduce grazing pressure on preferred forage plants and maintain herbaceous species diversity without sacrificing cattle performance.
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Vol. 71 • No. 4