Windsor, Mo. – Native grass and forb pasturage for beef cattle can boost ranching profits and benefit wildlife. A free tour of a cattle operation using native grasses in a forage rotation will be offered 5 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 16, at the Steve Clubine farm near Windsor. This tour is sponsored by the Missouri Prairie Foundation.
Clubine is a cattle producer and grassland expert. His farm was originally prairie, then used to grow grain crops, then planted in non-native fescue grass. In 2012, Clubine converted 40 acres of fescue to native prairie grasses and wildflowers for cattle grazing. A retired biologist from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), he began stocking the prairie in summer months with beef cattle destined for market, and he’s done custom grazing for another producer. Clubine tracked weight gains for cattle going on and off the native pasture and the cool season grass and legume mix he grazes in spring and autumn.
Abundant protein in native prairie plants and their ability to thrive in hot summer months has provided nutrition that’s prompted strong weight gains. During the heat and dryness of this summer, his pasture still has quality forage. But native pastures can benefit profits regardless of wet, normal, or dry seasons.
“My cattle gain in four months from May to August what it would take eight to nine months for them to gain on non-native cool season grasses,” Clubine said. “It’s the most profitable thing you can go with beef cattle on grass.”
The grass species mix he installed in his pasture includes big bluestem, little bluestem, eastern gama grass, and Indian grass. About a dozen wildflowers are also in the mix, and they also have grazing value.
A grazing rotation that includes pastures with prairie plants native to Missouri also benefits wildlife, said Max Alleger, MDC grassland coordinator.
“Native grasses and forbs provides many wildlife benefits for pollinators and birds,” Alleger said. “The addition of the native forbs creates a food source for pollinators like butterflies and other insects than we get in a monoculture (one species) pasture. A more diverse population of insects provide abundant food for a diversity of birds. Native forage also provides a structure that provides good nesting locations for quail, rabbits, and songbirds.”
All remnant and restored native grasslands help preserve Missouri’s original natural features as well as serving ranchers, said Carol Davit, executive director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation.
"The Missouri Prairie Foundation's mission is to protect remaining prairies, which are an incredibly important part of our shared natural heritage," Davit said. "We also promote the utility of prairie plants for their many benefits to people, including the establishment of native forage for livestock. Steve Clubine is an MPF Technical Advisor, and he is our go-to resource on native forage."
MDC offers assistance to landowners interested in native forage systems. For information, visit https://mdc.mo.gov/property. Some financial assistance may available, depending on what state and federal programs are available. Call your local MDC or USDA office for information.
Audubon, a private non-profit, is offering a Conservation Ranching program that certifies farms managed in ways that benefit grassland birds. This program creates incentives for bird-friendly practices by empowering consumers to purchase beef products that carry the Audubon certification seal. For information, visit https://www.audubon.org/conservation/ranching.
The Clubine pasture tour on Aug. 16 is limited to 25 participants. To register for the one-hour walking tour, visit www.moprairie.org. Directions will be sent to registrants prior to the tour. For more information, call Carol Davit at 573-356-7828.