Blending Farming and Conservation

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Published on: Jul. 16, 2012

identified the Grand River Grassland Conservation Opportunity Area for protection. Landowners with property within the area can take advantage of conservation opportunities, including a cost share to enhance and expand prairie chicken habitat.

Robin and Debbie Frank have been especially active in conservation programs in the area. The Franks are cattle producers in the northwest corner of Harrison County. Their 3,000-acre ranch is home to 800 cow/calf pairs. The Franks work with local Conservation Department staff to implement practices that benefit wildlife, as well as their cattle business.

Grassland wildlife rely on large areas, and the support of private landowners is critical to the expansion and preservation of their living spaces. Tree removal, legume interseeding, prescribed fire, native warm-season grass establishment, exotic species control and fencing benefit both prairies and producers.

Other vegetation, such as red clover and alfalfa, can add nutrition to a producer’s grazing or hay rotation. Many wildlife species also benefit from interseeding legumes. Prairie chicken broods are attracted by the insects that usually accompany legumes. About 500 acres of interseeding has been implemented on the Frank Ranch, improving forage and brooding habitat.

The Franks have focused on removing unwanted woody vegetation from fence rows, from around ponds and from the upper reaches of several headwater streams. Besides reducing potential lightning rods, tree removal enables the growth of more valuable forage. If you combine the harvest of commercially valuable trees, fencerow renovations and timber thinning, the Franks have removed more than 100 acres of trees during the past 5 years.

Prairie chickens prefer a habitat that offers a diversity of plants and a mixture of plant heights. A mosaic of vegetation from 6 to 18 inches high is ideal. Fields that are never grazed eventually get too tall and too thick. Grazers like cattle provide this patchwork structure.

Warm-season grasses are well adapted to northwest Missouri soils and offer nutritional forage in the warmer months of June, July and August when cool-season grasses are less abundant.

To provide better nesting for prairie chickens and to offer alternative forages for cattle, Robin Frank has used several programs to convert 400 acres of fescue pasture to warm-season grasses. He plans to convert about 20 percent of his available grazing acres to native plants. “Cattle do well on this summer native warm-grass forage,” he said. “I have experienced increased conception rates and gains when compared to normal fescue pasture.”

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