Conservation grazing gives DNR property managers all the tools to manage for sustainability

MADISON Conservation grazing, a habitat management tool currently being used on a few state wildlife areas, employs a staple in Wisconsin culture–cattle–to meet wildlife habitat management goals and expand partnerships with the agricultural community and local, sustainable food movements.

The true stars of conservation grazing--Wisconsin's cattle.
The true stars of conservation grazing–Wisconsin’s cattle.
Photo Credit: DNR

Department of Natural Resources properties where grazing occurs are closely monitored and assessed by DNR staff and cattle producers. In addition, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is conducting several research studies regarding conservation grazing. The results of these studies and further monitoring will be used to adapt the department’s grazing approach to maximize wildlife habitat benefits. At all properties, grazing is done in a way that minimizes negative impacts on recreational users.

Biologists and researchers say the benefits of conservation grazing include:

  • habitat improvements for grassland-dependent wildlife species;
  • benefits to local agricultural producers;
  • invasive species management;
  • improved grass and forb diversity;
  • improved soil and water quality; and
  • decrease in herbicide use and mowing.

In its second year, Buena Vista grassland rotational grazing program shows promise

DNR Wildlife Technician Erin Grossman and rancher and grazing specialist William Kolodziej are currently in year two of a five year project to utilize rotational grazing to improve wildlife habitat at Buena Vista Wildlife Area. The project area consists of 320 acres within the Central Sands region.

“Rotational grazing allows for varying rates of grazing pressure to achieve our desired outcome, and I am excited for the potential that this project has on Buena Vista and other wildlife areas around the state,” said Grossman. “We’ve seen positive results so far and I’ve gained a greater appreciation for what is important to ranchers and developed some great partnerships along the way!”

Sample Caption and Alt Text
William Kolodziej and DNR Wildlife Technician Erin Grossman have used managed grazing to create a diverse plant environment at Buena Vista.
Photo Credit: DNR

Grossman and Kolodziej are working to improve habitat with beef cow and calf pairs to apply grazing pressure at varying intensities to increase plant diversity, create a grassland mosaic to benefit a variety of grassland bird species, reduce woody plant species, reduce reliance on costly mechanical and chemical management methods, and foster partnerships with neighbors and the agricultural community.

“When first approached with the concept of fostering a partnership with Wisconsin DNR to utilize grazing on public lands, I saw it as opportunity with many benefits–however, I also had many concerns,” said Kolodziej. “Will DNR understand my goals and needs as a producer, will my cattle have enough to eat and adequate water to be healthy and stay in the fence?

“DNR staff have been easy to work with and showed concern for my livestock operation–we rely on each other’s knowledge and skills from wildlife needs to livestock needs and we are a team working together to reach both wildlife habitat and livestock production goals. It is rewarding to be a part of a successful project where commercial agriculture works with the environment to improve water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat.”

In 2016, stocking has doubled to 60 beef cow and calf pairs. Kolodziej says cattle performance has been great, with 100 percent breeding success last breeding season. Forage yields are roughly six times higher after one year of rotational grazing and great weather. In addition, the resident grazers have been trained to eat steeplebush, willow, aspen, musk thistle, and goldenrod – this has allowed a diverse set of plants and wildflowers to appear.

Grossman and Kolodziej held a pasture walk Aug. 11 at Buena Vista to teach members of the public about rotational grazing, and attendees were excited to learn more about what they can do on their own properties to better utilize this effective management tool.

Sample Caption and Alt Text
A grazing workshop at Buena Vista Aug. 11 helped attendees learn more about managed grazing.
Photo Credit: DNR

Buena Vista Wildlife Area is a 13,700 acre property with predominately grassland and woodland habitat located in southwestern Portage County. In 2006 it was designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) [exit DNR]. Several state natural areas are found within the borders of the property including the Buena Vista Quarry Prairie and the Buena Vista Prairie Chicken Meadow.

For more information regarding managed grazing in Wisconsin, visit and search keyword “grazing.”