Harrison County rancher Robin Frank’s 3,500 acres lie next to the Dunn Ranch in the Grand River Grasslands Conservation Opportunity Area. That’s a good thing for local prairie chickens, because Robin’s way of raising cattle features a number of practices that create prime boomer habitat. These include removing trees, converting pasture to native warm-season grasses, controlling exotic plants and conducting prescribed burns. He also practices management-intensive grazing, which creates a mosaic of habitat conditions, ranging from slightly grazed to bare-ground patches. “We’ve got a lot of chickens on our place, and I think they survive better where they’ve got a little bare ground.” Robin’s team of conservation professionals includes staff from the Department of Conservation, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation District. They help him implement a full range of grassland conservation practices. To see if your land lies within a COA, contact your regional office.
Three well-known farm bill programs help landowners bear the cost of conserving grasslands. The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program provide costshare and/or incentives for restoring degraded glades, savannas and prairies, including reducing tree canopies, conducting prescribed burns or planting native grasses and forbs. The Grasslands Reserve Program provides rental and easement payments to preserve native prairies, glades and savannas that are in good condition. Call your local USDA service center for more info.
Cattlemen usually manage forage with fences and livestock. But Department scientists have been testing a grazing system that relies on fire to produce fat cows and healthy grasslands. With “patch-burn grazing,” cattle graze heavily on the most recently burned patch — usually about one-third of the pasture. While the herd is gaining on primequality forage, the ungrazed plants rest and build up root reserves. Department scientists believe this method, when practiced on native prairie or native warm-season grass plantings, will yield better wildlife habitat and exceptional summer weight gains. It creates dense nesting cover, open brooding areas and escape habitat. Stocker calves in the study gained an average of 1.6 pounds per day through the summer months. To see how patch-burn grazing works, visit the links listed below.
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