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Cows can be pretty picky eaters.

Imagine you're at a restaurant and the waiter brings you a nice, fresh, crisp green salad. But when you look closely, you notice that there's a limp, brown, dead lettuce leaf in it. Now, wouldn't you demand a new salad?

Amazingly enough, our bovine friends are just as finicky. Range scientist David C. Ganskopp found that cattle turn up their noses at clumps of crested wheatgrass that sport as few as three dead grass stems. That wasted up to 50 percent of the available forage in an eastem Oregon study.

Plants with large amounts of this strawlike material are called wolf plants.

Ganskopp, at the ARS Range and Meadow Forage Research Unit in Burns, Oregon, says his finding means ranchers should make sure their cattle graze pastures thoroughly. Otherwise, the leftovers turn brown and unappetizing, and cattle won't go near the new, green growth surrounding them.

Grazing thoroughly doesn't mean overgrazing. "You wouldn't want to put cattle out on a pasture from April to August," says Ganskopp, "because that might entirely destroy some especially tasty species." Grazing cattle for shorter periods of time on smaller pastures - so everything gets cropped off, but no one kind of plant excessively-is a better idea.

Or," he adds, "an alternative remedy might be to breed grasses with stems that break off easily when dry, so wolf plants wouldn't develop."

Ganskopp has uncovered another peculiar bovine eating habit: a preference for mid-sized grass clumps. When given a choice of dime- to dinner-plate-sized clumps, cattle avoided the smaller clumps and chomped mainly on those that were 3.5 to 4.5 inches in diameter, or larger.

Although it's only speculation, Ganskopp says there may be a method to the munching. Taking both tooth width and tongue length into account, he found that a 4- inch clump makes a perfect mouthful for the average Hereford that was studied.

A smaller plant would yield less grass per bite. And because of the way forage grasses grow, the biomass (green, leafy growth) yielded by larger plants in a given area is less than smaller plants provide. That's why eating mid-sized grasses is most efficient.

Ganskopp says this information should help researchers devise better management s stems for cattle being fed on rangeland pastures.
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Title Annotation:grazing habits
Author:Corliss, Julie
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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