How to identify signs of grazing

Midsummer is the best time to look for signs of grazing. Everything from tooth marks to leftovers will help you to identify who was hungry.

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Midsummer is the best time to look for signs of grazing.

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Rodents, rabbits, hares and horses have incisor teeth in the upper and lower jaws, so leave incisor tooth marks on both sides of the bite.

Cattle, sheep, goats and deer, on the other hand, only have incisor teeth in the lower jaw, so leave tooth marks on one side of a bite.

Supplementary information from footprints and droppings is often useful when trying to identify the species involved.

GRAZING SIGNS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
Trees
  • Tree bark is most often chewed when the sap is rising and in winter.
  • Deer leave broad, characteristic upward gouges from lower incisors.
  • Rabbits, hares and rodents leave upper and lower tooth marks, generally at right angles to trunk.
  • Field voles often girdle a sapling just above ground level.
  • Bank voles climb and may gnaw well above ground level, often around the base of branches.

Cereals

  • When feeding on cereals, badgers typically flatten an area close to the field edge. Characteristic features are criss-cross stems lying on the ground with the grain stripped out by the badgers pulling the heads through their teeth.
  • Deer leave narrow paths, feed less intensively in one area and do not flatten large areas when feeding.
Riverside plants
  • Of the rodents, it is mainly voles that feed on herbaceous plants. Field voles leave distinctive runways through dense vegetation with piles of chewed green vegetation – often rushes or young grass shoots – in sheltered sites.
  • Water voles leave similar signs but feed close to the water’s edge. They feed on larger plants and their tooth marks are twice as large.
  • Lots of faeces are generally found at feeding sites. Water vole faeces are much larger than those of other voles.
Twigs and branches 
  • Rabbits, hares and deer all chew young twigs. Rabbits and hares leave a smooth, sloping cut.
  • Deer (and sheep and goats) leave a smooth cut on one edge and a jagged cut on the other if they bite with their incisors, or a frayed end if they use their cheek teeth.
Saplings
  • Deer fray saplings to clean the velvet off their antlers – red and fallow fray in July and August, roe in April and May.
  • The tree is left in tatters, but finding the velvet is rare as the deer eat it.
Fields
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  • Rabbits graze close to their burrows, producing short ‘lawns’ along field edges.
  • Hares tend to graze in the centres of fields, and their feeding signs are more scattered.