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Conservation Grazing for Land Stewardship

sheep will eat invasive plants
Photo credit: Gary Kleppel, University at Albany

Controlled grazing by domestic livestock is a sustainable alternative to herbicide or mowing for control of invasive plants in natural areas. The use of sheep or goats to graze invasive plants can not only help meet DEC goals of pesticide reduction, but can also improve plant biodiversity and soil health. Grazing can be an effective substitute for mowing for vegetation management, especially in areas too steep to mow safely, while also reducing fuel costs, and minimizing litter and thatch. In areas with sensitive wildlife populations, such as the endangered bog turtle, managed grazing can be much safer for wildlife than mowing.

The growing popularity of targeted grazing for invasive plant control, especially in the Western United States, has helped change the impact of grazing from land degradation to ecosystem restoration. See the Targeted Grazing Handbook in the right column.

DEC has been working with Dr. Gary Kleppel at the University at Albany, SUNY to develop a conservation grazing protocol for State lands, the first of its kind in the United States. The process uses a technique called Intensive Rotational Targeted Grazing (IRTG). On State lands, livestock will be brought in on a temporary contract basis to perform specific grazing tasks to meet management objectives. The animals are managed with portable electric fencing, and rotational grazing techniques that minimize impact on the land. While the draft guidance document focuses on the use of sheep, the basic principles can also be used for management of goats, and even for larger animals such as horses and cattle. Please see the link to the Kleppel Lab at SUNY in the right column.

What Can Conservation Grazing Be Used For?

  • Controlling invasive plants . Almost all of New York's invasive plant species can be eaten by livestock - even giant hogweed.
  • Restoring grassland bird habitat. Because rotational grazing can be managed quite precisely, it is a wonderful tool for improving grassland bird habitat. Grazing not only increases plant species diversity, but also physical habitat diversity. While some bird species may require long grass cover for nesting, they may prefer shorter grass patches for foraging.
  • Reducing fuel load. To reduce fire danger, and to prepare for manageable controlled burns.
  • Removing woody vegetation and grazing maintenance at historic sites. The National Park Service has been using goats at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island.
  • Reducing weed competition around riparian buffer plantings. Newly planted trees and shrubs are very susceptible to shade competition from weeds. Since they are already protected from deer by tree tubes, they are also safe from small livestock. Grazing can be more effective than mowing, because livestock can graze much closer and will remove cover for voles and other small rodents.
  • Cleaning up edges and fence lines. Which are so often havens for poison ivy. Sheep and goats love poison ivy!
  • Restoring wildlife habitat. Much prime wildlife habitat is a mix of fields and patches of early succession brush and trees. Without maintenance, it will quickly go to thick brush and young trees. Grazing is very effective at keeping open areas open and increasing overall habitat diversity.
  • Grazing capped landfills. To prevent growth of brush and trees with deeper roots, which could damage the cap. Steuben County has begun a grazing program to maintain capped landfills.

More about Conservation Grazing for Land Stewardship:

  • Intensive Rotational Targeted Grazing - an ecologically sound management practice used to control the spread of invasive plants with the deployment of grazers, like goats, sheep and cattle