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To burn or not to burn native pasture

Prescribed burn revitalizes native grass stands.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

August 7, 2019

1 Min Read
grass fire
ON FIRE: Native grasses such as these in the Flint Hills of Kansas are set ablaze to rejuvenate the stand. Kansas State University

Native grasses like fire. “It invigorates them,” Pat Keyser says.

The University of Tennessee professor and director for the Center for Native Grasslands Management says cattle producers often ask about doing a prescribed burn on native pastures. Keyser likes the idea. “It improves the quality of the stand and suppresses weeds,” he says.

Burning at least once every three years will help maintain a quality native grass stand. “If you burn it, they will come back,” Keyser says. But don’t burn back-to-back years. “There needs to be a time of regrowth,” he says.

If burning a stand, aim for when warm-season grasses such as big blue stem break dormancy and have buds or leaves. In Missouri, that time is about the last part of March or first of April. “That is when you will provide the maximum benefit to the grass,” Keyser says.

Cattle can graze the year pastures burn. However, he notes, before returning cattle to the pasture, make sure the natives reach heights of 12 inches or more.

Not a fan of fire? Keyser says that is OK as well. “You could manage a stand of native grass for 20 years without dropping a match,” he says. “If you are afraid of fire, don’t feel like you have to burn.”

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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