Swiss research shows cow breed influences vegetation diversity

The smaller and hardier Highland cow was found to be better for plant diversity in pastures. Agroscope

Vegetation composition in pastures varies depending on the breed of cow that is grazing on it, according to a Swiss-led research study. 

This content was published on August 19, 2019 - 20:26

Researchers from Switzerland’s Agroscope and the Universities of Heidelberg and Göttingen in Germany compared the botanical composition of pastureland that had been grazed for years by Highland cattle with adjoining sites grazed by more-intensively reared cattle breeds. A total of 50 pastures on 25 sites in mountain regions in Switzerland and southern Germany were compared.  

Lighter Highland cattle were found to promote greater plant diversity in meadows than heavier production breeds like Angus or Limousin. The pastures grazed by the hardy Scottish breed also had more epizoochoric species - plants that dispersed via the fur of animals - some of which are in decline. However, hardier species like thistle and woody plants did not flourish under Highland cattle as the animals are less selective grazers compared to production breeds. The difference in vegetation was more marked the longer the breed was on the pasture.

“Matching grazing breed and vegetation may not only be beneficial for the animal but also for vegetation,” state the researchers in the article published in the scientific journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment

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