Managing Prairie for Hay and Wildlife


Follow these guidelines for managing remnant prairie or restored prairie to optimize hay and wildlife habitat. 

Six Practices for Better Prairie Hay

  1. Cut hay prairies in late June to early July to 3- to 4-inch stubble.
  2. Control weeds and brush by proper haying time and by burning in late spring (about April 15) two years in succession out of every five years.
  3. Fertilize with 30 to 40 pounds of nitrogen per acre about mid-May and only in conjunction with burning. Consider fertilizer costs against anticipated value of increased forage produced.
  4. Never graze prairie hayed in the same year until at least November and leave at least a 4-inch stubble. If possible, avoid winter grazing — forage quality is quite low.
  5. Alternate haying and rest years for improved wildlife nesting cover.
  6. Rotate haying with grazing.

Five Practices for Better Habitat for Prairie Wildlife 

  1. Rotate haying so that some portion of the meadow is rested each year. This portion may be from 10 to 50 percent as the owner prefers. The rested portion will often produce up to a ton more of forage the year after resting, which partially compensates for production lost the year of rest. The previous year's growth will usually have settled below the 3- to 4-inch cutting height by early July so that little old growth is picked up in the new hay. This technique is especially valuable for restoring abused prairies.
  2. Burn the hayed portion and leave the rested area for nesting.
  3. Leave all regrowth following haying and burning for roosting and nesting cover.
  4. Avoid all broadleaf herbicides except to carefully spot treat invasive, nonnative plants.
  5. Leave scattered clumps of sumac and dogwood for a mix of shrub and grass cover. These areas are heavily used by prairie chickens, quail broods, and other prairie wildlife.
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