Prescribed (or targeted) sheep grazing can effectively suppress the invasive perennial forb spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe L. ssp. micranthos [Gugler] Hayek). Some ranchers and other natural resource managers, however, resist using this weed management tool over concerns that sheep may consume too much of the graminoid standing crop, thereby decreasing its availability to cattle and wildlife and possibly harming graminoids with excessive defoliation. One potential approach to address these concerns is to graze spotted knapweed infestations first with cattle, immediately followed by sheep. We evaluated this sequential grazing strategy on foothill rangeland in western Montana, comparing sequential grazing at a moderate stocking rate in mid June (spotted knapweed in bolting stage) vs. mid July (spotted knapweed in late-bud/early flowering stage). Pastures (0.81 ha) were grazed with three yearling cattle for 7 d, immediately followed with 7 d of grazing by seven yearling sheep. Combined relative (i.e., utilization) of graminoids by cattle and sheep averaged 40% in June and July, safely within sustainable grazing use levels recommended for the site. Combined relative use of spotted knapweed by cattle and sheep also did not differ between June and July, averaging 62%. Previous research indicates that this degree of use is sufficient to suppress spotted knapweed. Our results indicate that prescribed sheep grazing can be applied immediately following cattle grazing in either June or July to suppress spotted knapweed without overusing desirable graminoids. Cattle and sheep will eat less graminoids and more spotted knapweed if cattle and sheep graze sequentially when spotted knapweed is in its late-bud/early flowering stage (mid July) rather than its bolting stage (mid June).
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Vol. 65 • No. 3