Kansas State University Graduate Students Unveil Research on Controlled Burns and Grazing Threats

By Trish Svoboda

Three graduate students from Kansas State University have recently presented their research on the dangers faced by animals grazing on the Kansas prairie, and how controlled burns can affect these threats.

The students shared their research outcomes at the recent Cattlemen’s Day at K-State. Their research examined the impact of controlled pasture burns done in the spring, summer, and fall.

Zach Duncan, who earned his doctorate in ruminant nutrition, conducted a six-year study on the impact of seasonal burns on the growth of stocker cattle. The focus of the study was to understand how fire can curb the spread of sericea lespedeza, an invasive weed that has tainted over 600,000 acres of native Kansas rangeland.

The study examined the impact of controlled burns in the spring, summer, and fall on nearly 2,000 yearling beef cattle grazing the land. According to Duncan, the findings suggest that moving the burn period from August to October resulted in a reduction of weight gain by 10-14 pounds for yearling stocker cattle over a 90-day grazing season.

Andrea Salazar, a doctoral candidate in entomology at K-State, conducted a study that revealed a lower tick population in pastures burned in the spring and summer. She noted that areas treated with fire had significantly fewer ticks compared to non-burned areas over an eight-month sampling period.

The timing of pasture burning appears to have no impact on the conservation of dung beetle populations, according to Herman Griese, a first-year graduate student in entomology. He said the study examining prescribed burns in the spring, summer, and fall found “no significant difference”.

For farmers, the advantages to their land and livestock are evident: they experience less parasite pressure, improved aeration, decreased soil compaction, reduced runoff following rainfall, and lower ammonia levels.

“Based on our study, ranchers who are worried about killing their decomposers (such as dung beetles) by burning their pastures can choose what time of year to burn based on other desired outcomes,” said Griese.

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