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Well we never had many horses at the farm but my recollection is that the cattle would compress the soil down to the point where the grass roots would be choked. I never really noticed any significant churning of the surface except when they got frisky and tore across the fields, never enough to effect the roots. Lots of evidence of compaction such as dead area trails. Generally, a steady degradation in the grasses ability to recover when under stress. Then we’d have to turn the soil and sow it in something else or re-seed and use it for hay a few years. We were running about 1.4 acre per head of lower grazing quality land with cattle usually yearling to ready for finishing at a feedlot.

Having said that I’m sure you’re a better farmer than I would have been.

Elaine Meinel Supkis

What you are describing is called 'overgrazing'. A notorious side effect of fencing in herds.

When out in the open, the herds move restlessly about. Cows and horses HATE grazing where they drop their shit, you know. This does two things: it makes them move along smartly and it keeps them from grazing the same place forever.

This is one of many reasons they move in collective herds. The predators are the herders and the innate need to move all the time keeps the herds in motion, seeking new grazing.

Humans have turned everything upside down.

There is no other reason for the near-universal evolution of hooves running literally alongside the domination of grasses. And pray tell, why do we PLOW the land to grow grasses like wheat? Heh.

Elaine Meinel Supkis

We ran 10 acres per head cattle up here where we have lots of rain and snow, by the way. This is why we see cattle out west on government lands: they graze over many MILES. And even then, all over the world, owners of herds overgraze even when in the open which is why Darfur is so violent, for example.

When the grazing failed in the Steppes, the tribes would sweep down upon civilization and burn everything.


Ah well there you go, the old man set up the farm, we did rotate the cattle around the fields to provide some relief. But I'll still disagree on the hoof thing, the moles gophers and earthworms seem a hell of a lot more effective to me. Always busy them thar little critters.

Elaine Meinel Supkis

Moles and earthworms: they are two different things. Earthworms have been around for nearly forever. Worms in general are very ancient.

They are responsible for us having any soil at all along with a number of even smaller organisms. Moles are more recent. They follow where there is grass, THEY DON'T SPREAD IT.

Read carefully: when hooved grazers move about, trees can't colonize places the hooved animals walk which is why we see trees on the plains mostly where it is hard for large hoofed beasts to walk. The action of walking on the earth with these sharp instruments means trees die. Grass simply bends over.

This is why there is the old saying that wind will fell the largest oak but not the smallest blade of grass.

We know when taller trees dominate by the existence of long-necked creatures whether they be dinosaurs or leaf-eating proto-elephants or the collection of strange, huge beasts that existed before grass took over.

Sometimes evolution works backwards, so to speak. Giraffes moved out onto the plains to eat the isolated tall tree tops after the jungles from which they came, shrank. Over the eons, their necks evolved longer and longer. Their hooves evolved, too.

Camels, colonizing deserts during the Ice Ages which were even drier than the previous, already dry epoch, evolved away from sharp hooves and towards softer pads. They are an evolutionary story that is very interesting. Wish I knew more about it, will look up more information about them.


Based on your ascertain most of Southern Alberta which is Short grass Prairie (Palliser Triangle et. al.) Should be succumbing to encroachment from the Parkland Flora due to the fact that there are no hooves beating the poplar and aspen sprigs down.

My direct observations find that these aggressive trees are still overtaking the ditches, fence lines and tree line/farm field interfaces everywhere precipitation will support them.
This is not evident in the short grass prairie areas.

I can’t speak for the medium/tallgrass areas but a can refer to the Cyprus Hills micro climate/Micro ecology. Sitting smack in the Palliser Triangle this area was sparred from the last ice age due to it’s elevation. Therefore it hosts many holdovers from previous ecological epoch’s. But significantly it is heavily treed unlike the surrounding lower prairie areas. The lifting action of the air masses encountering this area supports this ecosystem through precipitation.

Trees just don’t grow well in the arid short grass prairies, hooves or not. Trees will however voluntarily take to riverbeds, gullies and depressions where what little precipitation will collect.

Elaine Meinel Supkis

I am surrounded by forests. 150 years ago, almost all the trees were gone thanks to farmers. My county was known for growing hay which is grass.

It took 150 for the forest to return.

The land you live on was grazed by vast herds of animals a mere 150 years ago. Up until the last 30 years, domestic animals grazed. It is only now that trees can recolonize it but they do this rather slowly, being trees, you know.

To send many seeds to uncolonized areas takes a lot of time. And true, water is needed which is why trees where you are have to do this very slowly, their mutual shade protects their mutual root systems.

Moreso: bushes. Out in Arizona, when ranchers overran the desert and grazed cattle, greasewoods began to colonize the land. When my grandaddy lived their in 1900, one could turn out the horses to graze.

Now you can't. Also, cactus plants took over. Over grazing is a really bad thing. This is why the grazers/predators/grass balance of nature worked.

Until humans interfered by rearranging everything.

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