A method for estimating cattle fecal loading on rangeland watersheds

K. W. Tate, Edward R Atwill, N. K. McDougald, M. R. George, D. Witt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Water quality contamination by pathogens and nutrients from cattle fecal deposits is a concern on rangeland watersheds. The temporal and spatial deposition of fecal material relative to storm events and water-bodies determines much of the risk a grazing scheme presents to water quality. The objective of this study was to develop and evaluate a comparative technique to estimate cattle fecal loading across a watershed through time. Once the method was developed, dry and wet season trials were conducted on a 138 ha experimental rangeland watershed at the San Joaquin Experimental Range in 1996-97. Fifty-four permanent 40 m2 belt transects were established across the watershed. Observers ocularly assigned a rank of 1 (smallest diameter) to 5 (largest diameter) to each fecal deposit within a transect. A regression relationship was developed to predict fecal deposit dry weight by rank. Load per transect was calculated as the total weight of all fecal deposits in a transect. All fecal deposits in transects were collected and actual fecal load determined. The comparative yield methodology was successfully adapted to estimate rangeland fecal loading. Regression relationships predicting fecal deposit dry weight by ranks were highly significant for all observers (p < 0.001). The R2 values ranged from 0.97 to 0.99 in the dry season and 0.89 to 0.94 in the wet season. There was no significant difference between the weighed fecal load estimate and the estimates of observers using the comparative method (p < 0.05). This method provides a rapid, simple method for estimating spatial and temporal livestock fecal loading on rangeland watersheds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)506-510
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Range Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2000


  • Grazing
  • Nutrients
  • Pathogens
  • Water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology


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