Last Tuesday was a day full of excitement! I thought I was tagging along to a one-pasture burn with a few friends.. It turned out to actually be about 4,500 acres being burned by two different crews of farmers and ranchers. What an experience!
Some people wonder why farmers/ranchers burn their pastures and fields, so let me explain a little bit before we jump into what all happened that day:
Right now, there are a lot of pastures being burned around here for a multitude of reasons, but the main one is to get rid of the dead stuff. Later, after harvest (say, wheat harvest), some farmers will burn the wheat fields in order to help get rid of the stubble before they plant them again. But that’s a whole other topic!
People have burned pastures, fields, and prairies for hundreds of years. Tall grass prairies (such as the Flint Hills) have been kept free of trees by the occasional wildfires that swept through the Plains and pruned them.
One thing that some folks wonder about is do the fires actually kill the grass? The answer is no. While the grass stem on top of the ground is burned and dead, the root of most tall grass is deep underground and not harmed; this factor allows for the grass to grow back fire after fire.
Several reasons to burn the pastures includes:
– Burning helps reduce the brush, dead grass, and weeds or “filler”. This grass has no nutrients or good things to offer the cattle and it just fills them up. Since cattle are bought and sold by the pound, it helps when your cattle have grazed on healthy green grass all summer and are fat and slick vs filled up with the dead filler grass.
– It kills the ticks and parasitic worms that hide in the dead grass.
– Pasture burning also helps to clear the land for native plants (so they can grow better) and creatures such as the Sharp-Tailed Grouse, which needs the open prairie to nest on.
– Burning helps with an “uneven” pasture. When a pasture hasn’t been burned in awhile, it develops “clumps or bunches” of old grass. Because the old grass stems poke cattle in the mouth, they generally avoid these areas and go graze where the grass is shorter, softer, lighter, etc… This pattern can continue until pretty soon, you’ve got a “clumpy” pasture!
– Besides all of this, burning a pasture can make it plain gorgeous after the grass starts to grow back. It’s all green, soft, and new! So basically, we’re just spring cleaning on a bit of a bigger scale!
So last Tuesday… So much to tell! Well, it all started with half of the crew meeting up in one of the pastures to lay out where they were going to start, what needed to be done, who went where, etc.
Then, one of the guys took off on a four wheeler with the fire stick to start lighting the ditches on fire as well as start a back fire.
A back fire is what is set along on the downwind side of the pasture and then allowed to slowly burn for awhile. You can then put it out (or leave it) and go around to the upwind side of the pasture and set another fire. This one will burn much more quickly since it’ll have the wind behind it, pushing it. Once it reaches where the backfire was, it’ll stop because all of the grass (or fuel) will already be burned up.
In these pictures, you can see that the ditch on the left side had already been set on fire. Then we would drive along and put some out/make sure it didn’t try to burn across the road or do anything crazy!
Here you can see what one of the many pastures looked like from a distance, once it was set on fire… It was quite a sight to see!
On the left, is where we were starting a backfire for the next pasture while watching the smoke from another of our pastures we’d just left a bit before. (Don’t worry, there were still a few guys hanging back to keep an eye on it!)
All three of the pictures on the right show a backfire at some point as well too. The top shows a fire that’s finished its job, been put out on the very edge of the pasture and now is growing and heading towards the rest of the pasture. The second shows the fire on the other side of the road/thicket, and the third shows one of the guys spraying water for a kind of “barrier” before we start another backfire.
This particular picture is a little on the scary note if you didn’t know one important detail. You see that truck back there? It has a flat tire… The good news is that it made it to the area behind where we back-burned, so it’s safe!
And this was a picture I took just a couple of days ago. It had been about three days since the fires and you can see how clean it looks further back where the fire swept through.
Here’s another pasture I took pictures of when we went for a drive Friday evening. This is just to give you an idea of how beautiful and green the pastures will be after a little time and rain!
All in all, it was a very successful burn! Nobody got hurt and everything was still usable afterwards. The only downfalls were a cell phone getting lost and a flat tire.. So there was much to be thankful for!