Cows are keeping local prairie habitats in check

When you visit the Metroparks, you expect to see lots of wildlife, but a new conservation method is “steering” the natural habitats in a healthier direction.
Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 7:03 PM EDT
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SWANTON, Ohio (WTVG) - Cattle trying to keep up with the grass is not something you typically see in this part of the country but that’s exactly what’s happening at Metroparks Toledo, and the project is “udderly” exciting.

It’s something you’re more likely to see out west.

Leaders with Metroparks Toledo say “we’re basically looking to see if the cattle can help us manage our prairies.”

Cattle are grazing in the pastures of Oak Openings. Controlling the prairie grass here isn’t new. As recently as this spring, leaders have conducted controlled burns.

“We manage with fire using prescribed fire. Set under controlled conditions. We’ve been managing our prairies at Oak Openings this way for several decades now,” said Tim Schetter, the Chief Natural Resources Officer with Metroparks Toledo.

Two hundred years ago, bison did all the “lawn moo-ing”. Metroparks Toledo is bringing that method back.

“We are trying to replicate the grazing forces of bison and elk using cattle. Cattle focus on grass. The whole reason we want the cattle in here is to create more structural diversity,” Schetter said.

That means creating patchy areas, which is good for ground-nesting birds but that’s not the only advantage.

“That benefits the wildflowers because they’re focusing on the grasses. Those populations will become more robust, which is good for pollinators,” Schetter said.

Ethon Pawlaczyk is the owner of Black Swamp Cattle, the company that owns and manages the cattle of this project.

“It’s just natural cattle just moving through as they would naturally,” said Pawlaczyk. “They stay here, they don’t need any kind of housing or barn. They’ll be here until mid to end of September, kind of when the warm season growth is starting to dwindle down.”

Leaders with Metroparks Toledo say that if all goes well this year, the cows will come back to control prairie grasses in the future.

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