Wildlife management requires considerations

As ranchers and landowners seek ways to diversify their operations, the interest in wildlife management has grown.
According to experts, it is possible, and in fact, beneficial to manage for both livestock and wildlife, and only requires a little more attention to detail when forming grazing and land management plans.
No matter what kind of animal a landowner is trying to manage on their property, they all need four basic staples to survive efficiently: food, cover, water and space. These four components are needed to sustain both deer and cattle and can be done simultaneously if a landowner opts to make the extra effort.
The combined total of all animals on the property, including all classes of livestock as well as deer, must be considered when determining stocking rates. Just as you might overstock a piece of property with cattle and overgraze the land, it is possible to do the same when combining both deer and cattle.
When determining stocking rates and counting cattle, weaned calves up to yearlings are classified as 0.6 animal units, steers and heifers up to 2 years old are considered one animal unit, mature cows are one animal unit, and bulls over 2 years of age are classified as 1.3 animal units.
According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension article "Using livestock to manage wildlife habitat," cattle grazing creates open spaces for forb production, however cattle may compete with white-tailed deer for these forbs. On an annual basis, cattle consume about 12 percent forbs, compared to 36 percent for white-tailed deer. In spring, cattle forb consumption may increase to 25 percent, compared to 52 percent for white-tailed deer.
If grazing management is not utilized, then areas planted to maintain wildlife habitat could be trampled and rendered useless by livestock, resulting in wasted money and few deer.
The Extension article explains that the two most economically important wildlife species in Texas are white-tailed deer and quail, and both benefit from certain types of habitat disturbance which is why using livestock to help manage for these forms of wildlife can be beneficial. Both species will suffer if their habitat changes completely to brush or grass, especially midgrass to tallgrass plants, which compete with forbs. Therefore, some type of management is necessary in order to maintain good-quality deer or quail habitat.
"Deer primarily eat forbs. Forbs are pretty much their number-one source of feed, so we suggest that you plant high-quality forbs for them to utilize," said Steven Smith, wildlife specialist with the Samuel L. Roberts Noble Foundation.
Forbs may not seem worth the investment for livestock owners to plant, but for those managing for livestock and deer, there is a pay off. Perennial forbs suggested by wildlife management experts for deer include Birdsfoot Trefoil, Cicer milkvetch, Crownvetch, Lancer Perennial Pea, Lathco Flat Pea, Lespedeza (Bi-color, Kobe, Korean, Serecia) and Sainfoin.
All animals on the property will be competing for the same water sources. According to Smith, knowing the spacing between water sources is key to making sure that animals have water at their disposal without traveling large distances. Especially when dealing with wildlife, if a landowner can give them everything they need adequately on a piece of property, they will be more likely to continue returning to the property.
"From a wildlife management point of view, you want to have one water source for every 320 acres or every half section," Smith said. "Another thing is adequate cover to be able to hide. They are not only hiding from predators like us, but they are hiding from the weather. They need to get into the shade and stay out of the sun."
Although deer can easily clear the standard barbed-wire fence used to keep livestock contained, grazing management practices can still be very helpful in making sure that both livestock and deer can exist on the same piece of property in harmony. One of the ways to keep the deer coming back is giving them a "safe-haven" or area they can continually return to during stressful times, such as drought or rut and where all four staples are easily accessible.
While it is possible to manage for livestock and wildlife, it does require effort, that includes sometimes sacrificing grazing areas for wildlife during key times in the year.


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