Improper Animal Impact 

If you have been following this blog for a while you know that I talk about animal impact a fair amount. Animal impact is what, among many other things, places litter on the ground. When litter is placed on the ground it feeds soil microbes which build organic matter in your soil. I’ve done quite a bit of writing on litter, and also have included a section in my free eBook dedicated to the subject. If you haven’t already you should check out my free eBook.

So you might be asking yourself “how do I get more animal impact?” and “what does proper animal impact look like?” Well, to explain what proper animal impact looks like, I’d prefer to use an example of what animal impact should not look like. Let’s examine this picture.



I took this picture while hiking with my wife. The hiking area receives a lot of horse traffic. As you can see, there is clearly a beaten path. The reason for the path is repeated exposure to animal impact. The land in this picture receives no rest from the constant bombardment of the horses. Allan savory uses the example in his book Holistic Management of a person who lives on the top of a hill and walks his donkey down the hill everyday to fetch his water. That is 365 trips up and down the hill a year. If the owner of the donkey continued to do this everyday, his donkey would wear a path, much like the one you’ve seen above. However, if the donkey owner hired 364 other donkeys to fetch all of his water in one day, there would be no path. Why? Because the ground will have time to recover and rest in addition to the large number of animals in a fairly small area. After all, 365 donkeys cannot walk on the same path at the same time! The picture above is a good example of what animal impact shouldn’t be. You might notice this on your own property. The trails will most likely be to sources of water or minerals that your livestock routinely walk back to get. How can you avoid this?

Avoiding trailing basically comes down to one thing that, at first seems illogical. You need more animals! Yes, more of them. If you have large numbers of animals there will be so many of them walking back and forth to water or minerals that they won’t follow each other, but walk side by side and all around. Consequently they will also be placing more litter on the ground. This is assuming that you are rotationally grazing your cattle, or moving them often. If you are set stocking and have one water point, this will not work.

In order for this to work, you don’t necessarily need to be doing ultra-high density grazing all the time. With that said, you should also be rotating your cattle even though they might not be at high densities. Ian has pointed this out to me while we were out with a herd of 850 cows and their calves. When we observed their behavior from afar, you can see the animals spread out as they walk to water. However, Ian still insists that he needs more cattle! The more cattle he gets the less of a problem trailing will be for him.

Have any of you noticed this phenomenon?

Chris Stelzer

Chris Stelzer is a published Author, founder of Agricultural Insights and creator of many resources that help family farmers and ranchers grow their businesses. His flagship courses are the Grazing Mastery Program and The Farm Marketing Mastery Program. 

Chris Stelzer

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