Thursday, October 21, 2010

Promoting Wildlife in your Cattle Pasture

Mono cultures seem to be the norm; it is thought that without a good stand of Bermuda grass your cattle production will be non-existent. Now don’t get me wrong Bermuda grass with tons of fertilizer and herbicide will produce a great cattle crop. But what about the wildlife? Bermuda grass provides little to no value for most wildlife.

Good diversity of all native grasses, forbs, and browse, is necessary for optimal wildlife habitat (food, cover, and water). This same diversity provides valuable nutrition for cattle. Cattle use will the same forbs, grasses, and browse to fulfill their dietary needs.

Now I’m not saying to completely destroy your cattle pasture and start over. That would be very costly and requires a lot of time. Providing wildlife with succificent habitat is easy and requires little labor. I will discuss several ways to promote diversity on your place.

Do not clean your fence-row. That might sound crazy but woody fence rows provide great corridors for wildlife to travel with protection and are great food sources. To promote diversity here avoid applying herbicides when spraying your pasture, you can also plant small shrubs and vines to create a wind block for both the cattle and the wildlife during the freezing winter months. Another way to boost diversity along the fence row is to light disk a small strip next to the fence you will be surprised how many native forbs will appear. When creating a diverse corridor like this it is easy to cover a lot of area. Let say you create a 10ft wide strip along your fence and you make it a mile long. That’s sounds like a lot of land to be taking away from your cattle but really it’s only a little over 1 acre and provides a great deal of protection and forage for wildlife.

Another place in your pasture to create wildlife habitat is your pond. One easy way is to create a vegetative buffer around your pond by fencing off the area surrounding the pond. Of course leaving an area for your cattle to access the pond. A vegetation buffer will provide cover and nesting areas for wildlife. Along with the wildlife benefits a buffer prevents erosion and filters the water before it enters the pond. This keeps your pond clean, increases its attractiveness, and will help the pond maintain its depth instead of filling up with sediment. It is suggested that the buffer should be 50ft but do only what your piece of land permits. Remember the more ideal habitat the more wildlife.

You can also extend your pond out to create a shallow area to promote vegetation growth. The slope of the extended area should be around 100:1. By doing this it will create a wetland. Wetland have tons of benefits to wildlife and your land, I will just touch on a few here. The wetland creates a unique habitat for many types of wildlife including waterfowl, frogs, songbirds, butterflies, and many others. Waterfowl rely on many wetland obligate plants including pink smart weed, pondweed, millet, duck weed, and many others. There are even wetland food plot mixes to increase the number of waterfowl your wetland attracts. Wetlands also serve as nature’s kidney and will filter out chemicals from cattle waste to fertilizer before it enters your pond, if set up properly.

Do not overstock your pasture. Besides potentially degrading wildlife habitat, your cattle weight gains will decrease.  Know your pastures carrying capacity and stick to it or below it. Or your pasture may look like this!


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