Harvesting hay and grazing cattle on state lands helps DNR manage grassland habitat while also helping farmers

July 8, 2020

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture have joined forces to help connect the state’s cattle farmers in need of additional forage to DNR area wildlife managers needing to manage grassland habitat. Research over the last two decades shows that grassland wildlife and pollinators respond positively to well-managed haying and grazing.

For many years, the DNR has used its conservation grazing and haying program to manage grasslands for the benefit of wildlife. This also produces forage from DNR managed lands, such as wildlife management areas, for cattle farmers.

COVID-19-related disruptions at meat packing facilities have caused farmers to hold on to cattle longer than normal. As a result, some farmers have larger herds and are running out of feed. These changes put additional pressure on an already low statewide forage stockpile. Recognizing the opportunity to help address this need while also advancing management objectives on DNR grasslands, this summer DNR staff are working to publicize haying and grazing opportunities and streamline the process for farmers.

“The DNR is eager to partner with Minnesota cattle farmers and demonstrate the value grasslands bring to local communities,” said Dave Olfelt, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director.  “We know we can help local farmers while using haying and grazing to help us manage grassland habitat for wildlife and pollinators.”

Haying and grazing activity on WMAs is timed to avoid nesting and fall hunting seasons. Haying and grazing are done in such a way that substantial areas are left undisturbed and each WMA has good fall and winter cover. Typical hay leases are about 30 acres in size, a small portion of most WMAs.

The two state agencies worked together to update and improve information about haying and grazing opportunities on DNR lands. Cattle farmers who need additional forage are encouraged to email their DNR area wildlife manager to discuss options in their area. Area wildlife managers’ contact information can be found on the Conservation Grazing Map on the MDA website.

“Grazing and haying can be a valuable tool in grassland wildlife conservation,” Olfelt said. “This is a win-win for both conservation and agriculture.”