Incorporating knowledge of cattle activity or social behavior in rangeland management has the potential to improve both range condition and cattle productivity through intervention in and using the ongoing expression of behavior to detect veld condition changes. Currently, there is limited information on free ranging cattle activity patterns despite a concerted effort to introduce rotational grazing in communal rangelands. This grazing method interferes with livestock mobility, a necessity in heterogeneous semi-arid rangelands. It is, therefore, important that before evaluating rotational grazing intervention impacts in communal rangelands, an analysis of cattle activity patterns be done. Activity patterns of cattle in relation to forage quality, veld type, season, time of the day and management type were studied in a free-range grazing system in three villages in the Eastern Cape Province. Behaviour was determined by visually observing two animals during daylight hours for 2 days in each season. Current activity of each animal was recorded at 30 min fixed intervals until noon, and every 60 min thereafter. Percentage of the observation time spent in a particular activity for each observed animal were calculated for the duration of the observation. Seasonal activity patterns varied only at Upper Mnxe, with time spent grazing (77%), resting (35%) and walking (24%) higher in April, November and June respectively. Kraaling and mountain stockpost grazing management types affected the activity patterns of cattle, causing either an increase in morning grazing activity to cater for loss in grazing time or extensive walking in winter to compensate for forage scarcity. Rotational grazing can be introduced in mesic grasslands without adverse effects on animals, in contrast to semi-arid areas where major behavioural changes are needed as a coping strategy.
Key words: Cattle behaviour, grazing management, forage quality, kraaling, sweetveld, stockposts.
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