Fall Grazing of Riparian Areas

By Kaitlyn McMurphy, PAg, Agri-Environmental Specialist, Yorkton

Previous articles have discussed the advantages of maintaining healthy riparian areas which are beneficial for wildlife, water quality and resiliency during adverse climate cycles, but how can producers use these areas in their grazing rotation?

To adequately maintain the vegetation and structure of the banks and shores we must first consider what characterizes a healthy riparian area. A healthy, well-functioning riparian area will filter and capture nutrients, prevent erosion of shorelines and recharge underground aquifers. Shoreline stability is directly correlated to the health and diversity of the vegetative cover.

A well-maintained riparian area will be home to deep-rooted vegetation and diverse plant species with several vegetation layers present. Allowing cattle to access riparian areas too early, for too long or too intensely is harmful to shoreline stability and vegetative cover. Overgrazing of riparian vegetation, hoof shearing and compaction all compromise riparian health if not managed appropriately.

When incorporating a riparian area into your grazing plan for the season, it is important to consider the following:

  1. Manage forage demand – Creating riparian paddocks to exclude livestock during sensitive periods and improving stocking density will prevent overgrazing of preferred species along the bank and shoreline. It is important to provide adequate access to upland areas so that livestock are not forced to spend all their time in the riparian area.
  2. Appropriate timing to avoid vulnerable seasons – A good rule of thumb when considering timing of grazing riparian areas is to limit livestock access during the early spring and summer when the shoreline is most vulnerable to hoof shearing and compaction. Fall grazing is preferred as the ground is typically firmer.
  3. Providing adequate rest for recovery – Rest is vital to any grazing plan as it allows for carryover into the next season, encourages plant recovery and regrowth and ensures adequate litter remains. Protecting the banks from erosion and preventing bare ground is important in preventing establishment of invasive or undesirable species.

Managed riparian grazing is great example of a beneficial management practice for both livestock producers and the environment. For more information on grazing management of riparian areas call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

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