Prescribed Fire Effects on Activity and Movement of Cattle in Mesic Sagebrush Steppe

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Prescribed fire has long been used worldwide for livestock and wildlife management. Prescribed fire effects on activity budgets and movement path characteristics of grazing animals, however, remain largely unknown. We evaluated whether prescribed-fire treatments in mesic sagebrush steppe affect cattle behaviors, which could influence foraging efficiency and, ultimately, impact animal productivity. Mature, lactating beef cows grazing within two study areas located in the Owyhee Mountains of southwestern Idaho, United States were tracked with Global Positioning System collars for 2 yr before and 5 yr after fall prescribed fire. Tracking data were then classified into stationary, foraging, and traveling activity types on the basis of movement distance and velocity thresholds. After fire, cattle in burned sites tended to increase their foraging activity budgets, bout durations, bout counts, and path lengths relative to prefire and cattle in unburned sites. Fire did not affect steepness of cattle foraging paths. Prescribed fire in mesic sagebrush steppe can be used to create opportunities for cattle to improve foraging efficiency by altering their activity budgets and movement path characteristics. Any consequent improvements in foraging efficiency could, in turn, promote increased rates of weight gain, better body condition, enhanced reproductive success, and ultimately, more pounds of beef for market.


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