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Overgrazing: Ultimate Guide for Graziers [2024]

overgrazing
Written by
Sheeda Cheng
Published:
April 18, 2024
Updated:

Overgrazing in Australia is not a unique problem, however its implications are far reaching; it’s an ongoing threat to our unique biodiversity and reduces land resilience when tested in times of drought or floods. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, almost 13% of our natural vegetation has been removed due to clearing agricultural land. 

If we continue to allow overgrazing to occur systematically, it’s only a matter of time before our productive pastures are replaced by dust bowls. 

Because vegetation is an important business resource to us as graziers, we directly experience the effects of this – on both our land and income. An understanding of overgrazing and focus on minimising its impact is essential to prevent further degradation of our soils and biodiversity. 

In this guide, we’ll talk about the fundamentals we need to know about overgrazing as graziers: 

  • Overgrazing meaning
  • Overgrazing causes 
  • What problems arise due to overgrazing
  • How to prevent overgrazing

What is Overgrazing?

Overgrazing occurs when animals consume vegetation more rapidly than it can regenerate, leading to a gradual decline in plant numbers and degraded soil health, but is also influenced by multiple factors.

What Causes Overgrazing?

Overgrazing can be caused by:

  • Excessive agriculture clearing
  • Inefficient grazing strategies
  • Economic pressures on farmers
  • Adverse weather conditions
  • Improper land use
  • Overstocking of animals

These factors soon lead to detrimental stages where your land cannot sustain the animal load it’s carrying, resulting in dying vegetation and degraded soil quality. This in turn results in landscapes that are unable to support healthy plant growth. In simple terms, your pastures stop growing.

Problems that Arise

The consequences of overgrazing are severe and multifaceted. Overgrazing exposes your soil to the harsh elements, resulting in bare ground, wind erosion, and water runoff. At the same time, it reduces your soil health, increases soil temperature, and causes faster evaporation.

These factors then contribute to a fragile state of affairs; desertification, erosion, and the spread of invasive plants. The larger-scale and often long-term impacts of overgrazing include ecological damage, loss of native species, food shortages, and adverse effects on millions of human and animal lives. 

Below, we dig deeper into some of these issues.

Desertification 

Soil Erosion

Overgrazing brings forward a concerning issue—depleted ground cover, exposing the soil to harsh weather elements. When animals excessively graze, they strip away the protective layer of vegetation, leaving the soil vulnerable. High rainfall and wind events become damaging, causing erosion.

Overgrazing also results in soil compaction, making it harder for water to penetrate the ground, leading to runoff and increased soil erosion.

The aftermath of overgrazing delves even deeper, affecting the intricate life within the soil. The once-vibrant ecosystem, teeming with billions of vital microbes and organisms, becomes vacant. This disruption to the delicate balance of life underground puts the soil at increased risk of erosion and degradation.

The unsettling chain reaction from overgrazing resonates upwards as key nutrients in the soil that are crucial for plant growth disappear. As a result, the land lies barren, unable to support the production of multispecies plants that are necessary for livestock to graze on. 

Degraded Fertility

Overgrazed soil rapidly loses its fertility, adversely affecting the robust root systems that sustain vegetation. What once were thriving deep root systems supporting dense foliage now become compromised. The cycle of excessive grazing and its impact on vegetation initiates a detrimental loop, depleting essential nutrients from the soil.

The consequence is a rapid decline in plant health and biodiversity. Diminished foliage and fragile root systems not only limit the vitality of existing vegetation but also hinder future growth. This cycle of depletion—where vegetation struggles due to nutrient-deficient soil—leads to diminished life and reduced agricultural yield. 

Unfortunately, this perpetuates a distressing pattern of land degradation.

The adverse effects of overgrazing create a distressing cascade, gradually chipping away at the foundation of fertile soil, impacting both the existing life and the potential for future growth.

Climate Change

One of the largest global issues associated with overgrazing is climate change. This is due to the lack of carbon-sequestering vegetation on land that is overgrazed or cleared. The more vegetation there is, the more carbon we can draw down from the atmosphere. 

A growing number of graziers in Australia are now working with soil carbon project developers to build soil carbon back up. This not only helps to sequester atmospheric carbon and prevent or reverse overgrazing, but it also helps them earn carbon farming income. 

Larger Ecological Impact of Overgrazing

When overgrazing is not resolved, the long-term effects are devastating – overgrazing can lead to detrimental impacts on a large scale. This puts us at risk of food shortages, which can, at scale, eventually lead to starvation for people and livestock due to depleted pasture nutrients. 

In distinct ecosystems such as ours in Australia, substantial ecological harm may lead to the extinction of native species, and even disrupt the environmental balance more dramatically. Persistent overgrazing influences entire ecological systems, diminishing forage diversity, and the ecosystem's overall health. 

From a grazier’s point of view, overgrazing reduces carrying capacity. This means that their grazing land is unable to maintain a stocking density that can support the business.

Overgrazing Solutions

So, how can overgrazing be prevented? Can overgrazing be reversed? While avoiding overgrazing is an obvious first step, it sometimes is easier said than done. Even with the best intentions, we know that overgrazing can occur and persist over time. 

To reduce the risk of overgrazing, proven methods include proper animal and land use management, adopting sustainable grazing strategies, and continuous monitoring of grazing behaviour to prevent overutilization of pastures.

By implementing these strategies, we can encourage soils to regenerate; hence increasing soil health  and re-calibrating the sustainability of ecosystems affected by overgrazing. 

Strategies on how to stop overgrazing: 

  • Rotational grazing: Dividing a pasture into paddocks and systematically rotating animals from one paddock to another. 
  • Monitoring grazing intensity: Keeping track of grazing frequency, duration, and intensity. 
  • Setting stocking rates: Determining and establishing a stocking rate (number of animals per unit of land).
  • Strategic placement of water, salt, and minerals: Strategically attracting livestock to underutilised forage areas. 

Improve Your Pasture, Starting Today

An easy way to reduce the risk of overgrazing is to use tools like MaiaGrazing. Amongst other benefits, this software conveniently produces grazing plans and provides you with an ability to forecast based on different scenarios to help prevent overgrazing.

Additionally, with the MaiaGrazing mobile app, you can deepen your observation skills by utilising its photo capture functionality to record, compare, and refer to your pastures over time. This visual reference can be compelling proof of your improved management, or inadvertently a trigger to motivate you to do something differently if they show a pattern towards overgrazing.

MaiaGrazing helps you make good grazing management decisions with confidence that can lead to a more financially successful farming venture. Furthermore, it supports practices that increase the resiliency of your land by making it that much easier to adhere to sustainable practices.

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