Burning all year? It depends on the goal
A 20-year study by Kansas State University found burning Flint Hills pasture at different times of year have few negative consequences to plant growth.
Range owners in Marion County typically burn in April. Burning in April allows plants to begin growing and therefore effectively kills the plants. Walt Fick, rangeland management specialist with Kansas State University Extension, said this valuable burning benefit would disappear if range owners burned too early.
“Burning during the fall and winter will only top-kill plants like red cedars or honey locust trees,” he said. “Only after they have leafed out can you burn and kill the whole plant.”
Another downside Fick said the study doesn’t address is animal performance.
“The study was done without any grazing animals, but in mid to late April, burning enhances weight gain for feeder cattle. If you don’t burn during that time, you lose that gain.”
The study could apply to cow-calf operations, Fick said.
“Cow and calf pairs don’t see the same gains, so it doesn’t matter when burning is done,” he said.
Burning during the winter or fall was shown to help increase drought tolerance among plants and is less likely to affect wildlife. Fick said while the study shows burn timing doesn’t affect plant growth, range owners should consider what they want to accomplish before burning.
The large amount of burning in the Flint Hills during the spring time causes increased ozone levels, but if some range owners burn at different times, it could help spread out burning enough to lower smoke levels.