Distance from Night Penning Areas as an Effective Proxy to Estimate Site Use Intensity by Grazing Sheep in the Alps
Livestock site use intensity can vary widely across a grazing area due to several factors such as topography and distance from sheds and water sources. However, an accurate approximation of animal site use should be assessed for each part of the grazing area to apply effective management strategies. In the Alps, shepherds manage sheep through lenient supervision during the day and confining the animals in temporary night penning areas (TNPA) at night. In our case study, we assessed sheep site
... sessed sheep site use over the grazing area with global positioning system (GPS) collars and calculated the sums of inverse distances from all TNPA (unweighted and weighted on the number of penning nights) and from all water sources, as well as the slope, on 118 sample points. We assessed the relative importance of these variables in affecting site use intensity by animals using different sets of models. Both the unweighted and weighted distances from TNPA were found to be the most important factors. The best fitting model accounted for the weighted distance from TNPA and the distance from water, but the latter showed a lower relative importance. Our study suggests that using the distance from TNPA, preferably weighted on the number of penning nights, is an effective proxy to estimate the spatial variability of sheep stocking rate during grazing in the Alps.