Grazing rangelands after a fire
Posted on: Oct 19, 2012
We continue receiving requests for information regarding grazing rangealnds after a fire. First, we wish the very best for all those who lost land and property to the devastating fires of 2012. It's been a tough year, and we hope green grass arrives with spring rains next year.
Can you graze your rangelands after a fire?
Yes, depending on how you do it and your situation. There are three main variables you need to think about when conducting grazing on recenlty burned rangelands.
1. Defer the burned areas if you can and graze them later in the season. This will give the desired perennial bunchgrasses a chance to replenish lost energy reserves from the drought and fire of this summer. If you can, graze burned pastures later in the growing season so that burned plants have a chance to reach tall stature, photosynthesize, produce seed, and develop strong root structures. This will give them a headstart on competing against the less-desired grasses and also noxous weeds that may sprout after the fire.
2. Keep grazing durations short. Don't allow cattle to linger on burned areas, for they may rebite rapidly growing grasses. A perennial bunchgrass that is bitten must be allowed opportunity to recover from that initial graze. Don't keep cattle in a pasture so long that you risk the chance of rebiting plants that are recovering from that first bite. Closely monitor growth rates and utilize temporary electric fencing if necessary to create more pastures and shorten the grazing duration per pasture. The grass plants your cattle want to graze are likely the same species you want competing with weeds and other plants on the soil surface. Favor those desired grasses as best you can by maintaining short grazing durations.
3. Ensure grazing utilization rates are not heavy. Don't leave cattle in a burned pasture so long that grazed plants are bitten severly. If you graze at more moderate levels, plants may regrow more rapidly, meaning the recovery time between grazings may not need to be as long. Also, by leaving plenty of standing material ungrazed, you increase the amount of plant material that will fall to the soil surface as litter and help prevent erosion and the soil-drying effects of sun and wind. Preventing heavy utilization by maintaining short grazing durations will also help improve plant vigor for desired grasses recovering from fire and drought.
Don't forget the needs of wildlife when considering grazing after a fire. Birds need nesting cover and big game needs forage to eat. Managing for the three variables above will help meet the needs of wildlife as well.
For additional information on these major grazing variables, see an earlier post on this subject.
Give us a call for further information on this tricky topic.