BACKGROUND: Methane (CH(4)) uptake by steppe soils is affected by a range of specific factors and is a complex process. Increased stocking rate promotes steppe degradation, with unclear consequences for gas exchanges. To assess the effects of grazing management on CH(4) uptake in desert steppes, we investigated soil-atmosphere CH(4) exchange during the winter-spring transition period. METHODOLOGY/MAIN FINDING: The experiment was conducted at twelve grazing plots denoting four treatments defined along a grazing gradient with three replications: non-grazing (0 sheep/ha, NG), light grazing (0.75 sheep/ha, LG), moderate grazing (1.50 sheep/ha, MG) and heavy grazing (2.25 sheep/ha, HG). Using an automatic cavity ring-down spectrophotometer, we measured CH(4) fluxes from March 1 to April 29 in 2010 and March 2 to April 27 in 2011. According to the status of soil freeze-thaw cycles (positive and negative soil temperatures occurred in alternation), the experiment was divided into periods I and II. Results indicate that mean CH(4) uptake in period I (7.51 µg CH(4)-C m(-2) h(-1)) was significantly lower than uptake in period II (83.07 µg CH(4)-C m(-2) h(-1)). Averaged over 2 years, CH(4) fluxes during the freeze-thaw period were -84.76 µg CH(4)-C m(-2) h(-1) (NG), -88.76 µg CH(4)-C m(-2) h(-1) (LG), -64.77 µg CH(4)-C m(-2) h(-1) (MG) and -28.80 µg CH(4)-C m(-2) h(-1) (HG). CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: CH(4) uptake activity is affected by freeze-thaw cycles and stocking rates. CH(4) uptake is correlated with the moisture content and temperature of soil. MG and HG decreases CH(4) uptake while LG exerts a considerable positive impact on CH(4) uptake during spring freeze-thaw cycles in the northern desert steppe in China.