The same pasture that’s good for cattle also can be good for conservation.
Providing grass that supports herds and habitat is more feasible than some might think. Including warm-season grasses in rotational grazing plans can be a great way to provide better grazing for livestock and, at the same time, improve wildlife habitat.
Cattle producers can learn more about how the use of native warm-season grasses can benefit livestock and native wildlife July 13 at a grazing workshop that will be held on a private farm in Dade County near Everton. This workshop, which will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., is a collaborative effort of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever.
We’ll get to the conservation aspect of warm-season grasses in a minute, but first, here’s more about the grazing benefits:
Beef is big business in Missouri — the state ranks third nationally (behind Texas and Oklahoma) in beef cow inventory. Providing nutritious grazing is key to keeping the state’s beef industry thriving, and that brings us back to warm-season grasses.
A variety of plants can be termed warm-season grasses, but in Missouri the types that get frequent mentions are big bluestem, little bluestem, sideoats gramma, Indian grass and switchgrass. When Missouri was settled in the 1800s, these were grasses that could be found on the more than 15 million acres of prairie that existed in the state. In addition to serving as habitat for many wildlife species, early settlers quickly learned these prairie grasses were good for grazing and haying.
However, without knowledge of native grass management, the prairie grasses were weakened by over-grazing, late-mowing, plowing and other types of land-use changes. Throughout time the native warm-season grasses gradually were replaced by non-native cool-season grasses. This transition eliminated plants needed by wildlife and also got rid of a good summer food source for livestock.
Nowadays, many landowners are rediscovering the benefits of warm-season grasses. Adding warm-season grass pastures to a grazing system that already has cool-season grasses creates a complementary forage system that allows livestock owners to keep their herds feeding on high-quality forage for a longer period of time.
The reason for this is that it combines grasses with different growing periods. Warm- and cool-season grasses are most nutritious while they are vigorously growing. Cool-season grasses experience their peak growth during spring and fall. Warm-season grasses, meanwhile, grow most in summer. By making use of each type of grass during its period of peak quality, livestock owners can keep their herds feeding on high-nutrition forage for the entire grazing season. Warm-season grasses also make good hay. To the landowner, the primary benefits of a native grass hayfield are ease of maintenance, reduced fertilizing needs, dependable production and a harvest that occurs at normal lulls in the farming operation.
And, yes, there are benefits for wildlife, too. Warm-season grasses begin growth later in the year and are not ready to be grazed or hayed until midsummer. By then, most of the ground-nesting wildlife that need these plants for habitat have hatched their broods.
Landowners wishing to attend the July 13 grazing workshop can register by contacting MDC private land conservationist Landry Jones at (417) 326-5189, ext. 1848, or at Landry.Jones@mdc.mo.gov. The address of the farm where the workshop will be held is 249 Route O in Dade County.
Information about using warm-season grasses in a grazing operation also can be found at mdc.mo.gov.
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call (417) 895-6880.