Grazing and fire can be important tools to protect the prairie

He prefers the “patch burn” method which only involves specific parts of a given pasture within the ranch by rotation, although he always tries to start a fire on every acre at least every five years, if possible. “Our largest pastures are about 4,000 acres, and the smallest is 1,200 acres, which we divide into a pair of 600 and alternate burns there,” he explains. “We usually start burning in April and continue until early summer. I want some green growth to start before we burn.”

BURN STRATEGY

By burning smaller sections of pasture, Koger says the “resting” areas develop a higher level of plant diversity and populations. Grasses two to three years after a burn become thicker and provide more cover for wildlife and winter fodder for livestock. “When you burn entire pastures, you can harm wildlife,” he says. “When we were doing that, we found a number of turtle shells after a fire. Now that we are burning smaller areas at a time, we rarely see this sort of thing.

“When you leave an adjacent pasture to rest, quails, prairie chickens and turkeys have access to shelter from predators where you have stopped burning. Like cattle, they also prefer to feed on nearby scorched areas when the grasses start their growth spurt. With this growth comes populations of insects, food for highland birds. “

Koger says he’s learning more about patch burning tactics and how to use smaller fires to seed his pastures. “Over the years, we have noticed that after a fire, a lead plant, a legume of the prairies, flourished. We also noticed that yearlings didn’t touch it, but mature cows ate it easily, ”he explains. “So now we’re coordinating fire plans and storage decisions to ensure the main plant rests for several years between grazing and burning. “

THE RESULTS

The Koger Prescribed Burn has been a mainstay of Hashknife management since 1977. The results include many things in addition to improved livestock performance. “We have seen better breeder percentages and better weaning weights as we progress. And, a pen of 300 of our cattle in the feedlot will consistently be rated 100% Prime or Choice, so we’re doing something right, ”he says. “A telltale sign that cattle prefer burnt pastures is that we will typically find them on burnt acres 80% of the time.”

The lack of windmills and water tanks on the Hashknife Ranch is not so obvious.

“This ranch had a lot of windmills,” Koger explains. “We don’t need it anymore now that we’ve got rid of the cedars. We have gradually noticed more running water on the ranch as the springs reappeared with the restored natural water table. The ranch now has a lot of draws with it. cattail stands and wetlands that weren’t there before we started to burn. “

The diverse plant and bird populations have benefited from Koger’s rotational plate burning practices. In a recent Kansas State University ranch inventory in conjunction with the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, the Hashknife Ranch is home to 125 species of birds, 58 species of grasses, and nearly 150 species of herbaceous plants, which also represent 30 to 40 % of livestock feed.

Quail numbers also benefit from Koger’s management. Overall numbers on the ranch have remained stable, with a mix of 50-50 birds carried over from “new outbreaks” over the past 10 years. “I think the habitat of the old pastures next to the burnt pastures is responsible for our constant numbers of quails,” he says. “I clean a lot of quail for the customers, and even during the cold part of the quail season, we see that they still eat a lot of insects.”

The Hashknife Ranch has been welcoming deer, quail and wild turkey hunters for 19 years. Hundreds of Rio Grande turkeys thrive on the burnt pastures, and Koger estimates the ranch is home to over 300 Little Prairie Chickens, up from a few birds in the mid-1980s. our cattle business is also very good for wildlife. We have cultivated an enviable presence of well-fed and developed whitetail deer.

Over the years, several of Koger’s neighbors have started running their ranches by fire in Kiowa, Comanche, and Barber counties southwest of Pratt, Kansas. Last year, the region saw 28,000 acres of grassland treated with controlled burns. The widespread use of controlled burns has also slowed the spread of forest fires.

Asked about the local public’s perception of frequent controlled burns, Koger pulled out his smartphone and played a recording of a local emergency dispatcher calling to alert his crews of an impending wind change in the area of ​​a burn. In progress. “It’s good communication anyway, you look at it,” he smiles. “The people who live in this area for the most part respect the prairies and know that we have to burn to take care of them. “

About Debra D. Johnson

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