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10 June 2019 Botanical Composition of Yearling-Steer and Mature-Ewe Diets in the Kansas Flint Hills
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Abstract

Awareness of herbivore diet composition is an essential element of rangeland stewardship. Objectives of our experiment were to characterize diet selection by yearling steers and mature ewes grazing native tallgrass prairie, changes in dietary preferences that occurred with advancing season, and overlap in selection patterns between ewes and steers. Eight contiguous native tallgrass pastures (31 ± 3.3 ha) were grazed by yearling beef steers (n = 279 per yr) from 15 April to 15 July for two grazing seasons. Mature ewes (n = 813 per yr) subsequently grazed four of the eight pastures (0.15 ha per ewe) from 1 August to 1 October each year. Beginning 1 May, five fresh fecal pats were collected along four permanent transects per pasture at 2-wk intervals until steers were removed on 15 July. Subsequently, fecal grab samples were collected from 25 designated ewes per pasture on 15 August and 15 September. Microhistological analyses were conducted on fecal samples to estimate dietary botanical composition, using 17 grass, forb, and browse species from the experimental site as reference standards. Botanical composition of pastures was estimated annually in October. Diet selection was evaluated using Kulcyznski's Similarity Index. The proportions of total graminoids and total forbs in steer diets were not different (P = 0.37) among sampling periods. Steer diets were dominated by graminoids (≥ 88.4% of diets) throughout the experiment. Steers and ewes exhibited strong preference for Bouteloua gracilis, Buchloe dactyloides, Dalea purpurea, and Liatris punctata. Ewes also demonstrated strong preferences for Vernonia baldwinii and Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Steers avoided Lespedeza cuneata and Symphyotrichum ericoides, whereas ewes did not avoid any of the reference standards. Ewes selected approximately equal proportions of graminoids and forbs (58% and 42% of diets, respectively), and proportions did not differ (P = 0.67) between sampling periods. Diet selection by mature ewes and yearling steers overlapped by 65% under the conditions of our experiment.

© 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. on behalf of The Society for Range Management. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
C.A. Sowers , G.A. Gatson , J.D. Wolf , W.H. Fick , and K.C. Olson "Botanical Composition of Yearling-Steer and Mature-Ewe Diets in the Kansas Flint Hills," Rangeland Ecology and Management 72(1), 126-135, (10 June 2019). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rama.2018.09.003
Received: 11 May 2018; Accepted: 13 September 2018; Published: 10 June 2019
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