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Conservation grazing

Many of Wisconsin's Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) have grassland habitats dependent on disturbance to maintain their diversity and productivity. Methods of disturbance include prescribed burning, mowing, haying and herbicide application. Conservation grazing, also called managed grazing, is another tool WMA managers can use to improve soil health, plant diversity and structural diversity. Conservation grazing is about getting the right kind and correct number of animals to the right place at the right time, thus controlling the exposure of plants to grazing animals. Conservation grazing emphasizes the mutually beneficial relationships between livestock production and Wisconsin DNR's habitat goals.

The priority of conservation grazing is to use livestock as a wildlife habitat management tool to meet wildlife management goals. In addition, opening conservation land to grazing benefits local agricultural producers. Healthy soils and forage plants on conservation lands produce healthy livestock with weight gains compared to other pastures or grazed grasslands. Grazing is a flexible tool that can be customized to meet various habitat objectives. By customizing stock rate, timing, density, duration, seasonality and return interval, wildlife managers have a powerful tool for manipulating and managing habitat.

Conservation grazing can help to reduce the quantity of invasive or exotic species, depending on the species of grazing animals and the particular plant species. Cattle will graze on invasive woody species, such as box elder, cottonwood and willow, which can help to slow their spread within grasslands. Cattle will also help to suppress certain herbaceous weeds, such as brome, bluegrass, reed canary and wild parsnip. Wildlife species that depend upon functional grasslands benefit from reducing and spreading these unwanted species.

Conservation grazing projects are occurring at several WMAs across Wisconsin. The projects are monitored closely to measure the effects grazing has on wildlife populations, vegetation composition, structure, density and cost-effectiveness. Most projects are developed through consultation with a certified grazing management plan writer to ensure management goals are met.