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Burning pastures in spring?

 
John Mercer
Posts: 9
Location: Montrose, CO
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Hi Julius,
How does pasture burning fit in to grazing management? Around here ranchers tend to burn their pastures in early spring. Seems dangerous and extra work, but I burned a small patch to run an experiment. My leftover grass from the prior year was about 6" tall. The areas that burned grew back very green but not very tall. The areas that didn't burn were taller and still nice and green. My thinking with not burning is that it is better for the soil and water holding capacity as a whole, since the dead leaves provide shade to the soil (it's high desert here with lots of sun and irrigated pasture). When I put the cattle in the test area, I was surprised at the results. They ate the burned areas down to 0.5" of stubble, and the areas that didn't burn had 6" of residue left. Just like a line was drawn. Pretty amazing. I'm curious to see how the test areas perform as summer progresses. I think ideally I wouldn't have as much leftover grass in the spring, that might solve all of my problems. Just wondering what your thoughts are on this. Fire is generally never mentioned in the MIG books that I've read.
Thanks,
John
 
Julius Ruechel
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Burning grass is a great way to clean up an unused pasture that has been choked by dry grass - and the ash is a very good fast-release fertilizer - so no surprise that your cows love those areas - it's full of nutrients.

However, a well-managed pasture rotation should not leave behind tons of residue - that's grass that should have been turned into beef. Tweak your management strategy and you shouldn't see leftovers. Burning yearly means that you are wasting huge amounts of organic matter (plus a lot of other nutrients locked up in the grass) that should be recycled back into the soil to rebuild the humus. if it's going up in smoke every year, you'll have to replace those nutrients later with fertilizer additives. Better to pound any extra grass residue into the soil with your cattle feet and through manure recycling those nutrients back to the soil.

 
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