One difference between using cattle grazing and other grassland management options like fire or mowing is that cattle have brains. They can decide where they want to go (within our fences) and what they want to eat, and their behavior isn’t always completely predictable. For example, while we know that cattle will spend more time grazing in the burned patch of a prairie than in unburned areas, it’s always interesting to see what plants they decide to graze on or avoid, and how that changes day to day and season to season. Overall, their unpredictability is a positive for our management because we build it into our plans.
Another interesting facet of cattle behavior is their interaction with us when we’re out in the field. Cattle are often curious and come to investigate what we’re up to – probably because they’re hoping we have something fun to eat with us. I did some plant community monitoring this week and the cattle in that prairie tagged along for a while.
They ignored me all morning, but when I stopped to eat my peanut butter sandwich, the cattle happened to be coming to get water nearby, so they checked up on me. When I finished my lunch and started walking transects again, they followed along just to make sure I wasn’t doing anything that concerned them. (I wasn’t.)
Eventually, they apparently got bored (or hungry) and wandered off, leaving me to work alone. By myself.