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Grazing behaviour of beef cattle and its impact on soil nutrient retention and loss

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  • Full or part time
    Dr HR Whay
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Grazing livestock farmers face huge challenges in meeting public and political concerns about the sustainability and efficiency of their production methods. The urine and faeces deposited by beef cattle make important contributions to maintaining the fertility, structure and productivity of pasture they graze. However these nutrient deposits are often highly concentrated in small areas and there is concern that water runoff, leaching and gaseous emissions is resulting in loss of these valuable nutrients from the soil and contributing to environmental pollution.

Working in partnership with the North Wyke Farm Platform which has sophisticated soil, water and environmental monitoring facilities, this studentship will aim to investigate the relationship between the behaviour of grazing beef cattle and its contribution to the spatial deposition, retention and loss of soil nutrients. These observations of cattle behaviour also have the potential to be related to aspects of beef cattle management and environment factors such as field topography, pasture and sward type, pasture management events, rainfall, prevailing wind strength and direction, environmental and soil temperature and humidity, positioning of feeders, drinkers and contiguous livestock that may influence or explain the cattle behaviours and the likelihood of soil nutrient loss.

In addition, potential behavioural manipulations, such as exploitation of existing topography, positioning of shades, wind breaks, feeding and watering troughs will be investigated to identify practical recommendations for improving the sustainability of livestock grazing management. Throughout the project measures of productivity and welfare will be carried out to demonstrate the impact of cattle behaviour and behavioural manipulations to the farming community.

The studentship will be based in the Animal Welfare and Behaviour Research Group at the School of Veterinary Sciences and there will be opportunities for field work at the Rothamsted Research North Wyke Farm Platform.

PhD or Master by research: We welcome applications at any time of year from self-funded students interested in production animal behaviour, welfare and sustainability research. Please contact [email protected] if you would like more information, or see:

When applying please select ’Veterinary Science’ PhD within the Faculty of Health Sciences.


Dennis, S.J. Moir, J.L. Cameron, K.C. Di, H.J. Hennessy, D. Richards, K.G. (2011) Urine patch distribution under dairy grazing at three stocking rates in Ireland. Irish Journal of Agricultural and Food Research 50, 149-160
Kaucner, C.E. Whiffin, V. Ray, J. Gilmour, M. Ashbolt, N.J. Stuetz, R. Roser, D.J. (2013) Can off-river water and shade provision reduce cattle intrusion into drinking water catchment riparian zones? Agricultural Water Management 130, 69– 78
Orr, R.J. Griffith, B.A. Champion, R.A. Cook, J.E. (2012) Defaecation and urination behaviour in beef cattle grazing semi-natural grassland Applied Animal Behaviour Science 139, 18-25
Roche, L.M. Kromschroeder, L. Atwill, E.R. Dahlgren, R.A. Tate, K.W. (2013) Water quality conditions associated with cattle grazing and recreation on national forest lands. Plos One 8, e68127
Schlect, E. Hülsebusch, C. Mahleri, F. Becker, K. (2004). The use of differentially corrected global positioning system to monitor activities of cattle at pasture. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85, 185–202

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