The cattle grazing strategty at Oak Openings Metropark in Swanton Township appears to have been a success.
The cows grazed a fenced, 10-acre area on the south side of Oak Openings Parkway (Reed Road) at Girdham Road from May through September, when the contract with Swan Creek Cattle Co. concluded. There were 3-5 cows during that time.
“Although we won’t have a complete picture of the effects on vegetation until this coming spring and summer, so far the grazing appears to have had the desired effects,” said Scott Carpenter, Toledo Metroparks director of public relations. “We saw some reductions in woody encroachment by aspen and willow saplings; reduced cover of aggressive dominant grasses like big bluestem; and a slight increase in open bare patches which are crucial for Lark Sparrow foraging habitat.”
The cattle will return to the same location in 2023. Typically more than one season of grazing is needed to see some of the habitat changes Metroparks officials are looking for, Carpenter added.
An expansion of the program could also be on the horizon.
“So long as the second year of grazing goes well, we plan to expand the grazing to an additional, larger prairie in 2024, when we will give the currently grazed meadow a year off,” said Carpenter. “In the meantime, we will gather pre-grazing plant and wildlife data on the larger prairie over the next year, so we have strong baseline data to examine the ecosystem-level impacts of the grazing.”
The purpose of the research project was to emulate the impact of large animals, such as bison and elk that once roamed the land, on prairie habitat. Grazing animals such as cattle eat grass and other plants to the ground, creating bare patches, unlike deer which browse, eating only the tops of plants.
Oak Openings is a hotspot for rare plants, and land management techniques such as prescribed fire and grazing are intended to restore habitats to maximize the diversity of plants and animals, according to Carpenter.
Reach Drew Stambaugh at 419-335-2010