The recent precipitation obviously will help grasslands that burned to recover. But caution is advised as to when to begin grazing and determining stocking rates on those burned grasslands.
“A lot of grasslands’ recovery is going to depend on subsequent moisture,” said Walt Fick, range management specialist with K-State Research & Extension.
Grass species in heavier textured soils — such as buffalograss, blue grama and Western wheat grass — can be susceptible to damage from fire this time of year. Fick said studies have indicated these types of grasses can suffer a 65-percent reduction of forage the first year, and 39 percent the following year. After a previous year’s fire, “it took most of two to three years for grasses to recover on that type of soil,” he said.
Rhizome species such as sand bluestem, Indiangrass and switchgrass tend not to be harmed much by fire.
“At this point in time, the rhizome is well below ground,” Fick said. “Assuming we have some soil moisture and rain to get them growing again, I think they’ll recover quite nicely.”
In areas where little bluestem is found, Fick said he has some concern because it’s a bunchgrass, which has its growing point at the crown (the soil surface), where fire can do more damage. Once grasses begin growing back, Fick said he would suggest holding off on putting cattle out to graze “to give those plants a chance to recover a little and start growing.”
“In those heavier soils, I would suspect some reduction of stocking rate may be necessary, maybe 25 percent or more the first year,” he said. “Because grass in sandy soils is a different plant community, it may not be hurt as much. I suspect they’ll recover quicker because of the types of grass species that are on them.
“Taking a conservative approach is always a good idea. I think a lot depends on how it has been managed prior (to the fire). If it had been abused and grazed heavily for a number of years, well, they’re going to be slower to recover. If the pastures have been managed well and you have a good composition, I think they’ll bounce back quickly.”
Another thing to consider is when only part of a pasture has burned, how to manage it. Cattle will graze the burned area first because the new grass is more desirable. So watching and managing those areas differently might be necessary. Strategically locating mineral and salt away from those areas might help in more even grazing distribution. Or it might be necessary to put up a hot wire fence to limit or restrict grazing in the burned part of the pasture for a while.
Fick noted the early part of the growing season is critical.
“We are going to have some critical dates that we need to watch and make decisions,” he said. “If the grassland is not recovering like we think it should, then maybe we ought to cut back or do some de-stocking.”
• Source: Walt Fick, K-State range management specialist.
Stacy Campbell is a Kansas State Research and Extension agent for Ellis County.