Grazing & Grouse


Jim and I have noticed that sage grouse broods seem to be larger, and do better, in pastures where our sheep are grazing. Our observations are anecdotal of course, but we figure there are a couple of reasons why grouse do well with livestock grazing. The presence of our guardian animals (both guardian dogs and burros) discourages the use of these areas by predators while the herd is present. When our herds leave a pasture, the predators return, re-inhabiting that space until the cycle begins the next year.

The other important factor is the fresh manure from livestock that provides for a localized increase in bugs – important for survival of sage grouse chicks.

A new research project in southeastern Montana found that sage grouse did 
better in pastures with livestock grazing than in pastures without livestock 
grazing. Here’s some highlights of the research:

• Nest success was higher for nests in pastures with livestock concurrently 
present (59%) than pastures without livestock (38%). Researchers observed no 
direct negative impacts (such as trampling) of livestock on nesting sage grouse.

• Brood success was higher for broods hatched in pastures with livestock (79%) 
than without livestock (61%). The researchers noted: “The mechanism driving 
this is unknown; it may have resulted from behavioral avoidance of livestock by 
predators, or reflect predator control efforts in areas with livestock.”

• “Our results provide further evidence that livestock presence on the landscape 
can benefit nesting and brood-rearing sage-grouse.”

• Mortality to adult hens was attributed primarily to avian predators (40%), 
followed by mammalian predators (27%). No mortalities were attributed to 
collisions with fences or power lines.
• “Our results concur with research elsewhere that livestock grazing is 
compatible with sage-grouse conservation.”

The photos of grouse with cattle and sheep that accompany this post were taken on private land here in Sublette County, Wyoming. They demonstrate something the Montana researchers came away with: “Traditional family-owned ranching operations, the predominant local stakeholders in the Core Area, have historically managed land in a manner that is compatible with sage-grouse conservation and are 
well-poised to collaborate with wildlife and range professionals to maintain and improve sage-grouse habitat.”

The research was conducted by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management.

7 thoughts on “Grazing & Grouse”

  1. howdy cat, I follow steve bodio's blog from Arizona. do you utilize blm wild burros by any chance as guardians? I'm a volunteer (in Arizona) for blm's wild horse and burro program and we're always trying to get people to adopt. blm is in hot water in more ways than one, bundy and rounding up wild horses and burros, but I would say the adoptions are the most accepted means of reducing their numbers off the pub rangelands….thx, tom

  2. Tom, yes. We have three burros, all of which came from the southwest in BLM roundups. They are easy to work with, and have a natural aversion to members of the canine family. It took a while to get them to trust the guardian dogs, but they work really well together. Our older two are in their mid-20s now, and we have a five-year old as well.

  3. cat, that's great that you utilize blm range burros. your comments about natural aversion to canines is an echo I hear too. and from my xperience it is true. I adopted the blm burro as a pack animal to hike with. been hiking with her since 1992. I also like to hike with canines and the best for me are Australian cattle dogs. they do not see "eye to eye" at the homestead, (I had to "dog proof" the burro's corral) but once on the hiking trail it is pure harmony….thx, tom

  4. Tom, my husband pointed out that I neglected to mention that I've written two books about life with the burros. Excuse the personal plug, but I wrote an adult book about life on the range with my sheep herd, burros and livestock protection dogs:
    One of the burros, Roo, was the scraggliest wild burro in the adoption corral, and I teamed her up with the runt of the guardian dog litter, and 6 orphan lambs and it became an award winning kids book, The Guardian Team: On the Job With Rena and Roo. All my books are available at regular book sellers.

  5. ….and I highly recommend those books!….back to the grouse doing better with grazing animals around–makes perfect sense since they used to be in Bison territory, and modern livestock has taken on that role in the ecosystem now. One of the great tragedies here in the East is the demise of the once incredibly common Bobwhite Quail–my own childhood days were filled with their piping calls, now rarely heard. Lots of things have been proposed for this–more modern farming, avian diseases, pesticides, feral cats, etc. etc. I just recently read another theory I hadn't before heard–that the introduction of fescue grass everywhere in the East prevents the Bobwhite chicks from maneuvering easily, and they don't survive beyond chickhood because of it. You often just never know how things are connected, until somebody does a study!….L.B.


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