GPS Tracking Study Reveals Cows Spend Little Time in Streams

23 Mar 2017

Oregon State University conducted a 5-year study that utilized GPS tracking technology that showed that cows that were grazing actually spent little time in streams.

In fact, the 5-year study showed that only 2.5 percent of time was spent by the grazing cattle on federal rangeland in streams. This finding could be vital since there is continued debate over what type of impact cattle has on public land.

Oregon State University researchers equipped cows that came from 3 different ranches with homemade GPS tracking devices inside their collars. This GPS tracking technology mapped and provided researchers data about the cows’ positions over the five years during the fall and spring grazing seasons.

The homemade GPS tracking collars provided the researchers with the positions of the cows every five minutes and over the entire course of the study, provided them with over 3.7 million data points. The GPS devices were able to show researchers when the collared cattle was within at least 30 meters of these streams.

The collared cows grazed in the Umatilla national and Wallowa-Whitman forests on federal grazing allotments where the study was conducted. Researchers were provided with potentially substantial findings since public land grazing critics have long been debating that the cattle polluted the water and trampled the streambanks.

It was found that typically, the cows didn’t graze or even rest near the streams. Rather, they tended to graze on higher ground and rest in areas that were dry and away from the streams.

Previous logging or fires, fences, water sources, and good forage influenced how the cows moved. In each grazing allotment, the cows only used around 10 percent of the stream area.

It was usually during the summer heat that the cows showed much interest in the stream areas. They seemed to prefer the riparian areas better during the cooler spring seasons.

Researchers went through three  herds of cattle and chose cows at random among the 400 or so cows in each herd. As some of the collared cows disappeared, were sold or had their collars wear out, new cows were brought into the study and collared.

The results of the study could play a role in grazing allotments in the national forest and cattle grazing on public land.



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