Optimum habitat condition is a concept typically used for wildlife rather than livestock. The definition for optimal livestock habitat will vary with management objectives. Abiotic factors, such as topography, water availability, and thermal cover, affect animal performance and uniformity of grazing. Livestock usually prefer gentle slopes and avoid traveling long horizontal and vertical distances to water. Shade and nearby water are used for thermoregulation when temperatures are high, and topographic relief and woody vegetation can be used for thermal cover during cooler temperatures. Biotic factors, such as forage quality and quantity, influence spatial grazing preferences and affect animal performance. Livestock prefer areas with higher forage quality and quantity. Uniformity of grazing may be greater in homogeneous vegetation, but animal performance may be greater in heterogeneous vegetation, especially at lower stocking rates. Livestock grazing patterns have been predicted using multiple regression and other models, but their success has typically been limited to a specific site. Managers can improve livestock habitat conditions by changing abiotic attributes of the pastures, such as developing water, building structures for thermal cover, and changing biotic attributes of the pasture through burning, fertilizing, varying stocking rates, and manipulating grazing systems. Managers can also choose animals that are more adapted to specific rangeland conditions. Practices such as strategic supplementation and herding can modify livestock behavioral patterns to use more of the available habitat. The spatial and temporal variability of rangeland requires multiple management practices to optimize use of livestock habitat.
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Vol. 58 • No. 2