Cattle and Deer do Get Along

Sponsored by: Heartland Wildlife Institute & Spypoint Camera Systems

By: Colby Ward

Many hunters believe the perfect hunting land is available to wildlife and is completely void of cattle. I am here to disprove this myth.

For hundreds and thousands of years bison roamed North America and grazed the land we now hunt. Today cattle have taken the place of bison and fill a very important role to habitat management. Habitat that is properly grazed is rich with a variety of grasses, legumes, forbs and browse. On the other hand, if land is not grazed it becomes rank and stagnates. Disturbance is a key factor in habitat improvement. Cattle can be used as a habitat management tool that will provide positive disturbance to your property that will result in a richer and more nutritious habitat to grow monster bucks.

Raising cattle can be a fun side job and be used as a tool to improve your habitat

Cattle and deer can be very complimentary, if the numbers are kept in check and the cattle are grazed properly. Cattle are grazers and deer our browsers. This means that when range conditions are good, cattle will eat the grasses that are available and the deer will eat preferred forms, legumes and browse. Deer typically do not eat grass, unless it is very young and tender. Deer have trouble digesting most grasses, especially as the grass matures.

Cattle on the other hand can actually cause more forbs to grow as they disturb the soil in a good way. If there is no disturbance to the vegetation, either by cows, fallow disking, mowing or controlled burns, the land stagnates and there will become less quality forbs and legumes for the deer. Using cattle to do this work is greener for the environment and leaves more time for you to hunt, fish and enjoy your land.

SPYPOINT motion camera captured this buck entering a field which contains a variety of grasses and forbs

Cattle and deer can co-inhabit a ranch and do each other a lot of good. They can also be good for the pocket books of land owners, if properly managed. It is the proper management that is critical. I typically like to see cattle grazed on a rotational basis. If you have cross fencing you should move the cattle from one pasture to another and graze them in short stints on each pasture. Preferably graze the cattle on different pastures during the same months from one year to the next. Meaning, if you graze the cattle on pasture 1 in January, February and March in year one; then try to avoid grazing them in pasture 1 the next year during these same months.

You can accomplish this by implementing a one herd to two pasture rotation or even better a one herd to three or more pasture program. As many pastures as you have fenced you can cycle the cattle through; keeping an eye on the grasses which they are grazing. When they eat down one pasture then move them to the next pasture. By giving the pasture a rest (at least as long as it was grazed), you give the plants time to grow back and replenish; which will provide even more vegetation in the near future.

Key things to keep in mind are:

  • Do not try to carry more cattle that the land can support over the long term. I like to carry the number of cows that the land will support in drought years.
  • Graze native pasture on a rotational basis, resting pastures at least as long as they were grazed.
  • In the spring plant 1-5% of the acreage in warm season supplemental food plots that are fenced off to exclude cattle. Plots should be long and narrow, and at least one to five acres in size. Bottomland plots, not subjected to standing water, are most productive. A combination seed package like Heartland Wildlife Institutes Rack Maker Plus is preferred that will provide 20% protein from June through September.
  • In September/October, plant 1-5% of acreage in winter supplemental food plots, fenced-off to excluded cattle. Plots should be 1-10 acres, long and narrow.
  • A combination seed mix is recommended like Buck Buster Extreme from Heartland Wildlife Institute which consists of winter oats, winter rye and forage soybeans and three different brassicas or similar will provide 15-20% protein from November through May
  • Control feral (wild) hogs by shooting or trapping whenever possible. Winter months are most effective to control these direct competitors of deer.
Authors daughter helps to control the feral hog population with her Barnett Crossbow
  • Do not try to carry more deer than the land can support over the long term. Generally, one deer per10 acres in bottomland and one deer per 25 acres in upland is the recommended carrying capacity for most areas.

Hopefully, I have given you a new perspective on how cattle and deer can coexist and provide mutual benefits for ranchers and hunters alike. Cattle are grazers and can have a positive impact on the land and improve the habitat for deer, while deer are browsers. It is important keep all animal units below the carrying capacity of the land, which is true with or without cattle.

Remember to keep those hog numbers down, and enjoy the financial benefits of cattle and great hunting.

For the best in deer feed and nutritional products go to: Heartland Wildlife Institute

For the best in game camera systems go to: Spypoint Camera Systems