Grazing animals

Grazing animals shape the landscape

Grazing animals "work" as landscape conservationists on the Kindel, near Bolleroda and on the Steinberg. They keep the landscape open by trampling and eating, thus preserving rare habitat types and protecting their inhabitants such as the yellow-bellied toad and the golden fritillary butterfly.

However, each grazing animal eats and kicks a little differently: sheep prefer herbs. Goats have a wide range of forage and a tendency to bite very hard into woody plants and peel their bark. Horses and cattle eat rather unspecifically, herbs as well as grasses. By treading and rolling in certain places, these heavy animals in particular create raw soil and prevent the growth of woody plants.

All grazing animals avoid (and therefore encourage) prickly species such as silver thistle or stemless thistle, poisonous species or species rich in bitter substances such as pigeon scabious, German and common fringed gentian or species with aromatic substances such as many labiates. Many of these species are important food plants for butterflies.

Because grazing animals prefer certain areas on the land and tend to avoid others, and the frequency and intensity of feeding and trampling therefore vary greatly, the result is a varied mosaic of habitats.

Stocking density

Not only does the right type of grazing animal have to be found for an area, depending on the footfall and forage, but also the right stocking density. Too many animals are detrimental to biodiversity, as insects and plants are eaten and trampled too intensively. Too few animals will lead to overgrowth and grassing. In the national park, approximately one animal (e.g. horse or cattle) is kept per three hectares.

Grazing animals in the Hainich National Park

Yellow cattle

As the name Gelbvieh suggests, it is a single-colored yellow cattle with a mostly light flesh-colored muzzle - the fusion of the nostrils and upper lip.

According to the Red List of the Society for the Preservation of Old and Endangered Domestic Animal Breeds, the Gelbvieh is in category III "endangered".

Cattle of this breed graze on the almost 120-hectare year-round pasture at Kindel.

Exmoor ponies

The Exmoor pony originally comes from Exmoor in the south-west of England. The area south of the Bristol Channel is now a national park. It is a very hilly landscape, often unusable for agriculture, in which gorse, heather and scrub predominate in large parts.

Some herds of Exmoor ponies have been able to survive almost wild here. They are among the few "true wild horses", as they are not domestic horses that have been released into the wild. They have also not been bred back according to phenotype (external appearance). In fact, they are still exactly the ponies that have lived there for thousands of years without human intervention. Nature makes the selection, herd life ensures socialization and character, weather and feed (scarcity) for robust health.

This robust species can be found on the year-round pastures on the Kindel together with the Gelbvieh (near the hiking parking lot) and with highland cattle near Bolleroda.

Scottish Highland cattle

Scottish Highland cattle are the oldest registered breed of cattle (1884). It originates from the north-west of Scotland and the Hebrides, where it has developed the characteristics attributed to it through natural selection over the centuries - the small-bodied and relatively light Highland cattle are considered good-natured, robust and long-lived.

Scottish Highland cattle are kept together with Exmoor ponies on the 73 ha year-round pasture on the Kindel near Bolleroda and on an area of 16 ha on the Steinberg. The animals graze there from spring to fall.

Sheep and goats

Around 400 sheep and goats graze on an area of 112 hectares, which is also located near the Kindel hiking parking lot. They stay on the summer pasture from May to November and spend the cold season in the sheltered sheepfold.