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Keywords:

  • grazing;
  • livestock breeds;
  • stocking rate;
  • diet selection;
  • spatial heterogeneity;
  • cattle;
  • sheep

Summary

Reduction in grazing intensity and the use of traditional instead of commercial breeds have frequently been recommended to meet biodiversity and production goals in sustainable grazing systems. The impact of such practices within a range of contrasting grassland vegetation types was studied. This paper describes the effects on foraging behaviour in a study conducted over three years on mesotrophic or semi-natural grasslands in UK (steers), Germany (steers), France (heifers) and Italy (sheep). Three treatments were performed: (i) a moderate grazing intensity using a commercial breed, (ii) a more lenient grazing intensity with a commercial breed and (iii) a more lenient intensity with a traditional breed. Livestock at all sites preferentially selected bites containing legumes and forbs, and also short rather than tall vegetative patches. Grazing intensity affected not only diet consumed, largely reflecting the different availabilities of dietary components, but also some differences in diet selection. Livestock grazing the more productive mesotrophic grasslands more frequently exploited short patches of higher nutritive value, which is expected to reinforce the spatial heterogeneity of the pastures. Studies in the UK and Germany also revealed that steers showed a more pronounced selection for short patches at the lenient grazing intensity. More homogeneous grazing by livestock on the semi-natural grasslands with fine-scale heterogeneity is likely to decrease their spatial heterogeneity. There were few differences in the choices made by commercial and traditional breed livestock. North Devon steers in the UK expressed a greater selection for tall grass-forb bites than Charolais × Holstein crossbreds, whereas traditional breeds appeared slightly less selective than commercial breeds at the other three sites.