Main content area

Use of mineral mix supplements to modify the grazing patterns by cattle for the restoration of sub-alpine and alpine shrub-encroached grasslands

Probo, Massimiliano, Massolo, Alessandro, Lonati, Michele, Bailey, Derek W., Gorlier, Alessandra, Maurino, Luca, Lombardi, Giampiero
Rangeland journal 2013 v.35 no.1 pp. 85-93
collars, beef cows, shrubs, herds, pastures, mountains, surveys, grazing intensity, summer, global positioning systems, grasslands, Alps region
Throughout the last decades, agricultural abandonment in European mountain areas has caused changes in traditional livestock management with consequences for semi-natural grassland use and vegetation. In the Western Italian Alps, continuous extensive grazing has become the simplest and the most common system for managing large cattle herds. As a result, limited grazing in many rugged locations has led to an extensive shrub-encroachment of semi-natural grasslands in the sub-alpine and alpine belts. A study was conducted to assess if the provision of mineral mix supplements (MMS): (1) increases the use of steep and shrub-encroached locations by beef cows, and (2) helps restore meso-eutrophic grassland vegetation around supplement-deployment sites. During the summer grazing season, MMS were placed within 10 steep and shrub-encroached areas in two adjacent pastures (364 and 366ha), and 12 cows were tracked with GPS collars. For each supplement site, a paired control site was identified, and vegetation surveys were performed in the surrounding areas of both sites. Placement of MMS increased the use of areas within 12m of supplement locations compared with corresponding control areas. Cattle use of areas within 100m of the MMS sites was also greater than expected by chance. The use by cattle, associated with trampling, grazing and faecal deposition, reduced the cover of shrubs and oligotrophic herbaceous species and increased the average nutrient N-value and forage pastoral value of the new vegetation types established around MMS sites 2 years after their use by cattle. Strategic placement of MMS appears to be a sustainable practice to restore sub-alpine and alpine shrub-encroached grasslands. Nevertheless these results must be considered preliminary as a longer period is needed to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of this practice for the restoration of semi-natural grasslands.