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Highland Cattle herd helping restore native prairie at Hitchcock Nature Center

The animals are friendly, but they have horns and visitors are cautioned to keep a respectful distance from the cattle
Highland.jpg
Posted at 6:02 PM, May 31, 2024

HONEY CREEK, Iowa (KMTV) — A herd of fluffy, photogenic Scottish highland cattle are currently grazing at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. It's part of a plan by Pottawattamie County Conservation to restore natural prairie to the park.

  • Basically, the prairie evolved with large herbivores – such as bison and elk – that help spread prairie seed. Ping calls farm animals a "facsimile" of that process.
  • "We can bring seed out here and while they're suppressing that brome, they're opening up bare spots on the ground that the seed can have an opportunity to germinate," said Natural Resources Technician Aric Ping.
  • Those interested in seeing the cattle — from a respectful distance — may find them near the Hohneke Trail. They'll be in the park during the early part of summer.
  • Video shows ... highland cattle grazing in Iowa's Loess Hills at Hitchcock Nature Center

BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Don't pet the fluffy cows, but you can come and see them at Hitchcock Nature Center outside Honey Creek. I'm your Southwest Iowa neighborhood reporter Katrina Markel.

I came out here to learn about these photogenic highland cattle and what they have to do with conservation.

Aric Ping is a natural resources technician for Pottawattamie County Conservation. He says the cattle are grazing brome, a non-native pasture grass.

"We're trying to skew the competitive balance between those non-native grasses and the native plants," said Ping.

Yes, they are cute and they are fluffy, but they are here to do a job.

Basically, the prairie evolved with large herbivores — such as bison and elk — that help spread prairie seed. Ping calls farm animals a "facsimile" of that process.

"We can bring seed out here and while they're suppressing that brome, they're opening up bare spots on the ground that the seed can have an opportunity to germinate," he said.

They're also here to teach humans.

"Beyond our ecological objectives ... is they acclimate people to the presence of herbivores on the landscape ... they're pretty friendly, probably to a fault,” Ping said.

I was trying to respect their personal space but wee fella wasn't so worried about mine:

Reporter, attempting to record a take: "They're still animals and we should be respectful of them and give them their own space. Ugh. (Tries to start over, talks to cow standing a few inches behind her) You know, what, you distracted me. (Pets cow) I'm not supposed to do that."

The long-term plan is to have bison and elk in the park ...

"So, we need people to get, one, acclimated to their presence, and two, understanding the important role that they play in the function of our prairie and savannah ecosystems," said Ping.

The prairie also evolved with humans. Indigenous people kept the ecosystem healthier by setting prairie fires.

"And we are trying to reestablish that understanding and connection that we are part of this place and our actions have a direct impact on the health and biodiversity of our land," Ping said.

The herd "moooooves" around, so, those interested in seeing them from a respectful distance may find them near the Hohneke Trail. They'll be in the park during the early part of summer.

At Hitchcock Nature Center near Honey Creek, I'm your southwest Iowa neighborhood reporter, Katrina Markel.