You’ve probably heard that grazing cattle is good for the soil, good for the cattle and good for you via meat consumption. But did you know that it’s also good for birds? Practical Farmers of Iowa recently reported new research conducted in central Iowa last year about the positive effects of cattle grazing on bird habitat.
This bird monitoring research was done by Drake University students in collaboration with Practical Farmers of Iowa, and Holistic Management practitioner, Bruce Carney. Bruce has a farm near Maxwell, Iowa, where he grazes cattle. It is conveniently located near a 10,000-acre wetland and prairie conservation area.
Three habitats within 1 mile of flying distance were compared: The restored prairie, and two of Bruce’s rotationally grazed pastures (perennial pastures, and perennial pastures interseeded with annual species). Each area was monitored 3 times between May and September last year, with a total of 9 bird counts taken. The counts were made as researchers recorded bird sightings or calls for a 10 minute interval.
The results were fascinating! Bruce’s pastures had 27% more species and 94% more total birds than the conservation area; the restored prairie had a total of 285 birds, whereas Bruce’s perennial and perennial/annual pastures had 553 and 524, respectively. Researchers noted particularly that species of bobolink, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow and the eastern bluebird benefited from the grazing.
These results provide evidence that the disturbance caused by the grazing cattle improved bird habitat. Here’s how it works: the grazing actively alters the structure of the area by creating clumps of short and tall vegetation, providing birds with a more diverse habitat than the more densely vegetated conservation areas. Depending on the species, rotationally grazed pastures can have a greater capacity to support bird populations than conservation areas that are not grazed!
Researchers are excited at the prospect of engaging cattle producers in the process of ecosystem management. Yet another reason to choose grass-fed beef!