Native prairie is dominated by warm-season grasses, sedges, and forbs. Before Missouri was settled, native prairie covered about one-third of the state. Today only about 0.5% of those original grasslands remain, usually as small tracts (remnants). Most native prairies have been plowed and planted with crops or cool-season grasses, making remnant prairie among the rarest types of habitat in the world.
Benefits of Preserving Remnant Native Prairie and Grasslands
- They provide vital habitat for many grassland-dependent species of mammals, birds, insects, and microorganisms.
- They provide excellent summer forage for livestock (if grazed moderately).
- They provide quality hay.
If you are fortunate enough to have remnant prairie on your property, contact your local private land conservationist for advice on how to best preserve it.
General Guidelines for Managing Remnant Prairie
When grazed moderately, prairie remnants will provide excellent summer forage.
- Never allow prairie to be grazed lower than 6–8 inches tall.
- Start grazing these tracts around early May.
- Remove cattle by early to mid-September. This will allow enough time for the prairie to rebuild its plant vigor before going dormant for the winter.
Native prairie remnants provide quality hay. However, haying dates are more critical in native prairies, because they affect not only the yield and quality of the forage but also the types of plants that will persist.
Use fertilizer and lime with caution on a native prairie. Perform a soil test before putting any fertilizer and/or lime on any field so that the correct amount of all nutrients can be applied.
As a general rule, nitrogen is not as critical on a native prairie, since there are usually many native legumes that can help supply nitrogen in the soil. Phosphate, potash, and lime, however, can be in short supply, depending on how the native prairie was historically managed.
If your soil test results confirm the need for fertilizer, apply it just as the native prairie is greening up, usually in April.