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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Managing the Great Pasture

A note from A Kansas Farm Mom:  I have some amazing friends who can write and speak much better than I.  Mr. Daryl Donohue shared these comments on his Facebook page the other day and I asked if I could share it with you.  Lessons for both the consumers and ranchers can be found in his words. 

I feel compelled to comment on the subject of prescribed burning for Native Grasslands.

Mother Nature burned whenever she felt like it. She managed the "Great Pasture" as she saw fit and the ecosystem evolved and thrived. Before Europeans arrived, The Native Americans emulated Mother Nature and burned as they had observed the buffalo thriving on the new green grass each year. They were the first cattlemen and learned that an annual burning benefitted not only their meat supply, but their supply of fruits and vegetables, and medicinal plants as well.

We, as livestock producers, continue with this ritual to help keep the rapidly disappearing Native Grasslands healthy and viable for the benefit of food production in the form of beef. Now, understand that the grassland that is left is usually on rocky soil and hills that are NOT suitable for farming, nor gardening. The thin layer of soil that the grass holds is there because of that grass. Erosion by wind and water is a major factor of why this land needs to be kept in grass.

Fire is a major component that we use to keep this Eco-system in balance.
It is cost-effective.
And it is the best tool that the land manager has as far as healthy grass.
Fire is needed to scarify, or open, seed coats for germination on the many forbes, legumes, and grasses comprising the system's mix. Wintertime freezing is the other method.
Fire helps control invasive species such as brush, Multi-Flora rose, blackberries, and the scourge- Red Cedar trees.

Fire is a good thing as long as it is used correctly and with respect.

We have seen the results of the wildfire in Western Kansas and the damage wrought because of the high winds carrying it. Fire can cost a lot in loss of livestock, facilities, fences, homes, peace of mind, and unfortunately, human life.

One can never be too careful when doing a burn.
You sure don't decide to burn and have a dinner date set at 6:30 and expect to make it.
Fire is the main priority of the day and you don't leave until it is out.
Fire is not a toy.
It does have a hypnotic quality that causes common sense to exit stage left in some cases.
Fire has a tendency to sneak around and get loose if left to its own devices.

Fortunately, we have Rural Fire Districts in our counties on which we can rely for help. However, they are made up of unpaid volunteers who leave their responsibilities when they are called out. These heroes put their lives on the line when fighting an escaped fire. They protect lives of people and livestock, as well as homes, etc from destruction. A lot of times they seldom get a thank you. They come because of the ethic of being a part of community. This can be severely strained due to negligence of the party that lit the fire. Especially, if it is a repeat offense. This costs the volunteer in time lost, threat to safety, fatigue, and well-being. It also costs the fire district fuel, repairs, possible equipment destruction, and loss of manpower due to injury, or members deciding not to volunteer anymore. It costs in the loss of family time of the firefighters.

In our county alone, Rural Fire has responded to over 50 fire calls in March and April, to date, because of burning with the high winds, or sudden changes in wind direction.

Is this all due to negligence? No, it is not.

There are times when the best figured fires can get loose due to a burning rodent running across a black line. Or, sparks kicking up when the wind switches. Cow pies are common culprits as they will smolder. Either way, one must do their due diligence and have a degree of "What can go wrong?"when conducting a prescribed burn. One must also consider the people around them before lighting off.

In closing, we as agricultural producers must strive to do our best in working to keep our privilege of prescribed burning. The saying of "One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel" comes into play more than ever when dealing with Fire. When you have a public who doesn't understand why we burn, and all they see is destruction and cost of resources, it makes it harder for us to do our job of providing affordable food.

Safety First.
Ask for help.
Take your time and plan well.
And call Central Dispatch before you start.
Thanks for listening.

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