Common ag practices key for pollinators, grassland birds


Well-Known Member
Most farming and forage production management attempted to create uniformity and monocultures of plants for production purposes. For the long-term benefit of pollinators and grassland birds, the application of tools and processes that encourage a diversity of flowering plants on an extensive scale will be required. Perhaps it's time for more extensive use of prescribed fire and grazing management in a systems approach to create a greater diversity of plants on our grazing lands. Cover crops and the establishment of native plants in buffer areas and field edges on our croplands is also a systems approach to increase plant diversity. Properly applied, all of these practices improve overall health of the ecological system.

Changing management practices encourages novel thought to solve past issues.

Seven years ago we decided to quit broadcast spraying pastures for weed control which has led to greater diversity of plants and more diversity of beneficial insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds in pasture. IMO the surfactants in sprays are harsh on the exoskeleton of beneficial insects/animals.

Density of low preference forbs in selected areas is now kept in check by using a broadcast cover crop mix high in vetch (smother crop) and/or timely mowing at pollination. Low preference forbs indicate too low a stock density and/or time of grazing, but such are not the end of the world!

Sometimes you can reduce weed pressure simply by planting forage legumes. Not only do those legumes provide habitat for pollinating insects and supplemental food for other wildlife, but they also 'focus' cattle impact which helps beget new plant diversity or strengthens the warm season grass forage base the next growing season (provided ample recovery time is provided).

Three years ago we adopted planned grazing to improve plant diversity, wildlife habitat, help better match forage availability and quality with cattle needs, and extend the grazing season. The recovery period between grazings is far more important than how each pasture is grazed. High seral native grasses, such as big bluestem and indian grass in pic below, grow slowly and take time to establish, especially since the competing forage base is bermudagrass and tall fescue.

Three grazing disturbances for this paddock were done first week of March, last week of April, and one week in mid-June which ended just before summer solstice. Since 19 June, the paddock has been allowed to fully recover for 106 days. That length of time is necessary to allow slow maturing seral forages time to express themselves. No mowing nor overseeding has been done to accomplish the landscape you see....just grazing management to tap into the latent seedbank. The low preference forbs have been broadcast with a cover crop mix to reduce their numbers.....small areas with NWSG present were left as they be (no point in altering an area which you desire).

You are probably wondering what the cow herd has been doing for the past 106 days? They were housed on 1/4th of the ranch which contains excellent swards of tame warm season grasses, fescue, legumes, annuals, brush and forbs, etc. The summer recovery period for those areas is ~28 days to provide higher forage quality during reduced intake from summer heat stress. The short summer rotation also creates a fall shift toward cool season pasture species (both planted annuals and perennial forages) for winter forage stockpile (a combination of fall warm season grass regrowth and new green forage) of those 4 paddocks.

The threat of fall army worms and fire ants is nil in a paddock like this. Simply because insect predator numbers are too high in the dungeons of the dense canopy. Those pests retreat to the graveled roadsides where there is some short forage and suitable habitat. Fall is also a time when black-headed vultures migrate and pose a threat to newborn fall calves. This paddock provides 'cover' (tall forbs, briers, brambles) for the babies and ample mixed forage for older cattle. Cattle require 'cover' and 'habitat' just like any other animal species. This is the first of 4 adjacent 'calving paddocks'!

A friend asked if we have quail in that area. Two pair nested there this summer, but I have not seen the covey yet. Butterflies and honey bees?...very common and

Nice looking pasture. The cattle will be happy when you rotate them into it. Most plotters or farmers cause more harm than good by their actions as how they manage their plots or fields just to being pleasing to the eye.
Thanks! IT would have been ideal to have higher stock density back in June to trample what is now senescent stems...that is what we did in 2015. It puts the entire summer stockpile as same age plants (which differ in maturity rate) with less weed pressure. However, the goal for 2016 was to encourage seed set for the cool season plants which entails less impact with longer spring recovery and some stems remain standing after seed set...that also allows fuller growth of forbs. Every year needs to be a bit different to deal with the chaos of diverse systems. Currently, we are planning for 'selective' weed suppression next year by using targeted cover crops broadcast over low palatability forbs....that differs from the normal knee jerk reaction to drag the sprayer out each spring in anticipation of weed problems. I'd rather feed the cow, smother weeds, and fix N in the soil with forage legumes than spray. one approaches a monoculture the water cycle and mineral cycle are the first to fail...then animal performance takes a big hit. Loss of plant biodiversity means loss of root proliferation of the entire soil are then left with the same plants competing for the same resources at the same depth and the same the hell is that healthy for soil? For most tame pastures, this monoculture effect will show on a depth graded soil test as low mineral content in the 8-13" depth zone.....upper soil zones cycle only what is available or supplemented (haying will deplete this zone really fast)....deeper soil zones lack the tilth from taprooted rooted forbs, brush and deep fibrous rooted high seral tall grasses to recharge topsoil with subsoil elements (and keep your soil really shaded to hold water). If that makes any sense at all to you then you should see the pitfall which shallow rooted monoculture plantings create.

I rode to the grazing school in TN with a friend from far eastern OK who has been doing high density grazing with long recovery for some period of time. The week prior to our trip, he last 3 of the first 5 fall babies to black-headed vultures and was a bit frustrated. After talking over the 7 hour trip, I mentioned he was losing calves because there was a lack of 'calving cover' to hide them from predators (I won't change is mind on fall calving, so I didn't press that issue). He has been doing this type of grazing management on his place since 2007 and had earlier experience with Savory style grazing as an intern on a large ranch in KS. Nevertheless, when we got home he moved the cow herd to a different pasture. This pic shows what about half of his calving pasture looks like.....the other half grows more Bermuda, dallis and crabgrass....that is a soil type and aspect caveat. His area has been dry this summer and this is what he grow on ~ 4.5" of rain from 15 May to 15 Sept!

At the grazing school in TN, I met and talked with Doug Peterson (a soil health specialist from MO who practices the grazing management which he preaches). We were running a single-ring infiltrometer test on a paddock recently grazed at high density by growing/finishing dairy steers. He is the one who taught me about 'nutrient depletion zones' under monocultures. What I learned about the infiltration test was simple....when 440 ml of water will infiltrate the soil in the 6" diameter ring in less than 5 min, infiltration rate is considered good (proper tilth and lack of compaction).....soil should me moist but below field water capacity when doing the test.
I like seeing the young boys learning about soil health at an early age. Was that a school sponsored tour for them?
They are Menonites. The dad brought his young sons with him to the school. I was impressed how they sat there and paid attention during the talks. The older son took notes.....the youngest one had less attention span but was very well mannered. During the field walks, both kids either participated or tried out the various field measuring tools (they really liked the compaction probe).

A former graduate student from the UA is now a prof at Murray State in KY. She attended and brought a handful of students with her...a student discount was offered. It was nice visiting with her and the kids.....I kept her students running the infiltrometer test while Peterson discussed dung beetles and other soil fauna a few feet away. She grew up in far SE we have a common bond.

There was the normal cadre of science and writers there......including Allen Williams who also likes managing the landscape for big deer...and Dr Gordon Hazzard who practically wrote the book on low input stockmanship/stocker cattle....he is 90 and doesn't miss a beat!....kind of a reunion and strategy session for those guys. Also got to meet a brother-in-law of one our Departmental grazing researchers. Lots of 'Docs' at that event.

The rest of the crowd were producers from all over the country. Some I suspect were curious neighbors. R.P. 'Doc' Cooke hosted the grazing school and field visits were to his farms around Sparta TN. Doc and I have become friends and talk weekly during the drive to the ranch. Doc writes about animal health etc for beefproducer. You can read his blogs at this site.

Here is one of Docs recent blogs...I think you will appreciate his sincerity and direct speaking!
Here's Part II of my comments on ranch profitability
Animal Health Notebook
We have become big spenders but not-so-big producers. The two things together have been disastrous.

I am in the midst of listing and making comments on several factors that are extremely important to ranch profitability.

Somebody once said it is not our stupidity that kills us. It is what we know for a fact that is wrong that does us in. Most of the “routine” I see at most operations is killing them.

In my early childhood I learned to roller skate quite well. It was a necessity since I grew up in a neighborhood of big guys that you kept up with or were trampled. I could do all sorts of stuff quite well on skates with the exception of going backward. The reason was that none of my friends could skate backwards and there was no one to teach us. Truth is that backing up for any length of time makes me dizzy and I don’t do well drunk.

Seems to me in a roundabout way agriculture has worked itself into a similar state of affairs today. Most anywhere you go there is little to zero soil organic matter. Rain is required on a weekly basis. Most crops and plants are low in energy and nutrient density. Floods are a regular event, as are droughts. We have congregated the cattle on concrete, barns, slats, and dirt or mud lots. Animal waste management is a growing concern and huge expense and is fast becoming a big profession.

In the US, topsoil is our number one export at four tons per capita annually. We seem to be working frantically to fill our rivers and lakes with the precious stuff that can help keep us alive and healthy.

A review of the Big Five destroyers of grassland and soil might be in order. If they are new material consider thinking about them when you are out and about. Here is my list:
1. Removal of animals from the land.
2. Tillage – the plow is likely man’s most destructive tool of all time.
3. Grazing that results in partial plant recovery.
4. Repetitive monoculture and bi-culture farming.
5. Fire on a regular basis -- every one to five years.

The great challenge today that cattlemen and land managers face is misinformation and failure to understand how to reverse soil loss and fertility.

There is no tool or system in anyone’s arsenal that will restore our soils like planned, high-density grazing, followed by complete plant recovery. The results are miraculous and fast, and they address and correct health, waste management, drought, floods, compaction, mineralization and quality-of-life issues.

If you are not interested, my question is why not?

Does that not parallel what is going on in the hunting industry and recreational land management? "We have become big spenders but not-so-big producers. The two things together have been disastrous."
Last edited:
Good read. Yes it does reflect the recreational land industry. I have seen first hand how it is filling our rivers and lakes with silt and soil. Bad part it will change the way the water flows downstream which leads to worse erosion than before and with more people buying land now days without a clue as how to take care of the land it's only going to get worse.
The creek behind the house 'rolls' after about every rain event. I 've lost several feet of creek bank since 96. The more this city builds upstream the faster the runoff and poorer the infiltration. As you well know flooding is soon to become our biggest issue...followed by drought! Concrete, shingles, and asphalt are just as bad as bare soil! IMO..Inner city creeks will become concrete canals in 15 years!
Here is a pic of the same paddock in 2015 from a different angle (right about 100 yards of above pic) about June.....just before trip to NH's place. The pic this year (posted above) was taken left of ditch about mid-way down the ditch between blackberry patch and pipe corner bracing. Hot wire was moved to the right onto drier ground: 1) to get fence away from wet soil and 2) to add a couple more acres for better utilization of paddock to the right. 2015 was extremely wet year....we were running a bigger herd 85,000 lbs....and the grazing plan was different than 2016. Herd size in 2016 is 65,000 lbs. weed spray and no cover crops.....the effect is strictly weather differences and grazing management differences between years. Tall green forage in ditch is barnyard grass which cattle hammered. As of last week, the barnyard grass is will be trampled....and continue seeding further down the waterway. Eventually, dallis grass and fescue will take over the wet area. My point here is that you can totally change the landscape with planned grazing...each year! I am surprised that no one commented on the persimmon groves in this paddock? Osage orange is also being promoted. Wouldn't hurt my feeling to see 1-4 trees per ac in that area....alas.....a mixed pasture very healthy and very strategic for fertility!
Last edited:
Egyptian wheat....mowing.....planned grazing

Six interesting observations/adages:

1) it is hard to grow forage with an animal standing on it all the time
2) you gotta have pasture before you can figure out how to help the animal use the pasture
3) a bite of forbs can replace a lick of mineral
4) it is more rewarding/less cost to manage time/diversity than purchase fertility
5) a cull female will continue showing you her need to be culled
6) cold whiskey and cold beer blinds a manager
Question, D. On your post #3, on what do they base the infiltration rate on the 6 inch center? Why is that amount considered optimum on both the fluid amt and the soil sample? And is that test same regardless of soil type and location? And is it affected by amount of soil and depth o bedrock? Just curious.
Question, D. On your post #3, on what do they base the infiltration rate on the 6 inch center? Why is that amount considered optimum on both the fluid amt and the soil sample? And is that test same regardless of soil type and location? And is it affected by amount of soil and depth o bedrock? Just curious.

Infiltrometer tests are designed to measure water infiltration rate of topsoil. Most compaction layers and permanent restrictions are well below topsoil depth.......they should not influence the first few measurements. Hoof compaction would obviously influence the infiltrometer reading as would extremes in soil texture. Single ring and double ring infiltrometers can be can read more about each on the web or NRCS website. Dr Peterson used the single ring and Dr Williams used the double ring at the field day. They both measure time required for an acre inch water equivalent to be fully infiltrated by topsoil. There are 43560 square feet in an acre and an acre inch of water is ~26,000 gallons. Convert that to the soil surface area of 6" diameter and 444 ml of water is required. Several measurements of water infiltration rate in inches per minutes are made at each site...and averaged. Several sites within the same soil type are tested....and the results averaged. This type of testing should be done before a major change in field management is made and then done periodically as the new management is done over time.

On our ranch, I mainly look at the rain gauge, time of year, amount of runoff, and vegetation index in riparian areas. During late spring through early fall we can easily infiltrate a 2-3" rain with no runoff. During late fall, winter, and early spring, plant water use, transpiration rate, and evaporation rate is the least for the year, so soils stay wet, runoff occurs on less rainfall, and riparian areas trickle excess water almost continuously. Obviously gravel packed roadbeds, road ditches, and extremely shallow rocky sloped areas will show runoff with less rainfall....which is to be expected. It is good management if you can divert road water to ponds so they fill faster. After a short period of time into landscape scale soil health management, you will probably find that ponds fed by pasture/field runoff may offer insufficient stock water during summer due to increased soil water storage....that is however a good trade! Vegetation index of riparian areas is critical to monitor. As water velocity increases down the stream bed vegetation is blown out, soil/sediment particles in water are lost, cut banks don't heal, and gravel or rock stream bed the vegetation index is low. As landscape scale soil health improves, vegetation index of riparian zones increases and often with plant species different and more diverse than adjacent lands, some deep pools remain, soil and sediment are trapped/filtered (runoff will be clear) and start forming alluvial soil in riffles, and cut banks become stabilized. Thus, we can create wetland and alluvial soil habitat downstream simply by improving soil water dynamics upstream....and that is a big these areas offer excellent wildlife habitat for many species and improved stock carrying capacity/forage quality during dry times.

Fencing off riparian areas from livestock use is a huge mistake. As wild herding animals have a long standing history of repairing damaged waterways. When the herd is domestic stock, grazing of riparian areas must be planned and common sense used to repair such areas or maintain their functionality!

I want to hammer this infiltration thing again for you. Start listening to this talk about 18 min into the presentation. It is the rancher's daughter who did the rainfall simulator testing for her school science fair project. The difference between two types of land management on water infiltration is stark....for ex, never been grazed native wild-life rangeland = 203 ml infiltration average vs planned graze native rangeland 359 ml infiltration average. It is hard to increase the animal carrying capacity (either of wild or domestic) per unit of land when habitat management efforts increase runoff at the expense of infiltration. Setting aside or resting land long term for wild-life is a prime example of degrading management. When will we (the laymen) begin to understand that the soil water cycle is the most important aspect for matching animal productivity to habitat carrying capacity?