Using prairie for livestock forage is a sensitive topic, especially in the Tallgrass Prairie region. Some kinds of grazing management can result in the loss of native plant species and the spread of invasive plants. However, we also know that Earth's grasslands developed under the influence of a wide variety of herbivores, from insects to mammoths. More recent history included bison, elk, and finally, domestic cattle and horses. It is likely that long term, the health and diversity of many native prairies would improve under the right grazing regimes. Grazing is a complex vegetation management tool, like fire, that must be understood to be used effectively.
Research is limited, and we at the Tallgrass Prairie Center have not had the opportunity to investigate this topic. However, we are happy to pass on some trusted resources.
Beginners Guide to Conservation Grazing: Part I. Chris Helzer, Nebraska Nature Conservancy writes in his widely appreciated blog, The Prairie Ecologist, "This article is designed for people who might be considering cattle grazing as a management tool for a prairie but don’t have any/much experience with grazing management. I’ll give examples of the kind of objectives you might set for a potential grazing program and then some initial basic information on how to actually get started. "
Beginners Guide to Conservation Grazing: Part II. This article includes information on Diversifying Habitat Structure, Reducing Dominant Grasses, and Suppressing Aggressive or Invasive Plants.
Ian Thompson, a member of the Choctaw Nation, has a wonderful blog about Nana Awaya Heritage Farmstead, in southeastern Oklahoma. In Rebuilding Prairie in Pastures: What We're Re-Learning, he describes their progress in restoring degraded pastures to native grasses, using rotationally grazed bison and Choctaw ponies.
Are you managing grazers on prairie? We would love to hear more about your experiences and observations.