Patch Burn Grazing Shows Benefits

Patch burning has positive impacts on plant communities and soil properties, enhancing the flowering plants that increase pollinator and bird habitat, and increasing livestock performance, research at NDSU’s Central Grasslands Research Extension Center (CGREC) shows.

“Fire was, and still is, a natural disturbance to our rangelands, and depending on the timing of the burn, can create both long- and short-term benefits,” says Kevin Sedivec, CGREC interim director.

Sedivec and CGREC scientists work collaboratively with North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station range scientists from the School of Natural Resource Sciences on the NDSU campus, including Torre Hovick, Ryan Limb and Devan McGranahan. 2020 will be the fourth year of an eight-year study.

Among their findings: Cattle's average daily gain was greatest on two patch-burn grazing treatments, compared with modified twice-over rest-rotation grazing. For this study, patch burning is burning one of four approximately 40-acre patches each year. Cattle naturally select the burned patches for grazing because they like to eat the most nutritious and palatable forage found in the most recently burned patch.

In the modified twice-over rest-rotation grazing treatment, the grazing area is divided into four relatively equal patches and fenced. Cattle are rotated through the patches twice and allowed to graze for a certain number of days.

“Fires have been beneficial,” confirms Craig Larson, a producer in Sheridan and McLean counties. “We’ve seen forbs express themselves after a fire. We’ve set back some Kentucky bluegrass and brome grass. We’ve also seen some native grasses appear in places we haven’t seen for a while.”

The scientists also found that flowering plant abundance and diversity were higher in patch-burn grazing treatments, compared with season-long grazing.

“In light of these conclusions, patchburn grazing appears to be an effective conservation tool for those seeking to increase resource availability for native rangeland pollinators,” says Hovick, an assistant professor of range science in NDSU’s School of Natural Resource Sciences program.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Kevin Sedivec, 701-424-3606,

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