By Tara Fisher, Source for article: Stream and Riparian Area Management: A Home Study Course for Managers, Ext Bulletin 4446-M

"Grazing pastures in the spring that have riparian areas may be advantageous for several reasons."

When are you planning on grazing riparian areas this year? If you are considering spring, here are some things to think about. Grazing pastures in the spring that have riparian areas may be advantageous for several reasons. Upland vegetation is available and succulent during this time of year, which may induce livestock out of riparian areas or at least reduce the use of riparian plants. Reducing livestock activity in riparian areas this time of year will also reduce soil compaction and bank trampling. The growing points of many grass species remain low to the ground until that plant is ready to flower so growing points may be unaffected by early season grazing. By grazing in the spring, there is adequate time throughout the remainder of the growing season to allow for regrowth of riparian vegetation. Woody species play an important role in maintaining riparian functions where they are present. The reduced reliance of livestock on riparian areas during spring will also reduce browsing on woody species allowing them maximum growth during this critical period.

The wet conditions of riparian areas in the spring can create disadvantages to early season grazing that you should be aware of. There is a high potential for soil compaction, bank trampling and subsequent erosion because of generally high soil moisture levels at this time of year. Wet soil conditions may discourage livestock from using riparian areas, but these conditions make the streambanks much more susceptible to damage when use does occur. Spring grazing coincides with the critical period of plant growth and development. Grazing repeatedly at the same time each year may impact plant vigor and cause undesirable changes in the plant community. If livestock are mostly grazing upland forages, supplementation may be required since the nutritional value of upland forages may be low early in the season. Early season use of riparian areas by livestock may also adversely affect wildlife by reducing nesting cover, disrupting brooding females, and reducing available forage.

Given this information, early season use of riparian areas may be best suited for the following situations:

Succulent, herbaceous forage in the uplands draws cattle away from riparian areas.

Climatic conditions are such that livestock are not looking for shelter or shade.

Wet soils in riparian areas discourage use by livestock.

Soils that are well drained will have limited soil compaction and bank trampling.