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HB Ranch, located four miles south of Cedar Bluff Reservoir (Trego County) on Highway 147.

Pasture walks help producers take stock of ecosystems
By Tom Parker

A typical Kansas pasture on a typical Kansas farm or ranch is a highly complex, species-rich ecosystem that can either be beneficial or detrimental to the producer. Differentiating between the two can be tricky, often involving experimentation as much as experience. Knowing what to look for in a pasture, healthy or otherwise, and being able to better manage that pasture is the focus of five upcoming pasture walks scattered strategically around the state.

Look and Learn Pasture Walks, sponsored in part by Amazing Grazing III, a collaboration between the Kansas Farmers Union and the Kansas Graziers Association, will host the walks in June and July under the facilitation of Dr. Dale Kirkham, retired range management specialist, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and local NRCS range specialists.

“Pasture walks can be very informative for producers to attend,” said Keith Harmoney, range scientist for the K-State Agricultural Research Center in Hays. “They’ll get to see something different than their own pastures, but also very similar. And because of the informal nature of the discussions taking place among experts as well as other producers, they can get different viewpoints on everything from soil health to managing livestock, and learn different management practices that might help them overcome problems particular to their own area.”

The nature of a pasture walk is meant to be comparative rather than competitive, an assessment rather than an exhibition. Pastures are chosen for their environmental and ecological components that can have direct bearing on management practices and financial success, or failure, Harmoney said.

“We select pastures by looking for a range of different ecological sites—different soils and species of plants that will grow on those soils—so producers can see what they are and how they might change as the season progresses,” he said. “We offer plant identification to show which are the most desirable and which are the least desirable, and go through various management scenarios or grazing strategies that over time would improve the condition of the pasture.”

Any and all topics are open for discussion, Harmoney added, including wildlife habitat management. “Some producers offer guided hunting services and might be interested in learning about plant diversity and wildlife habitat,” he said. “It’s basically a classroom in a pasture.”

In addition to Harmoney, range specialists include Doug Spencer, NRCS rangeland management specialist, Marion; David Kraft, Diamond K Cattle Co., Gridley; Dale Kirkham, Eureka; Dwayne Rice, NRCS rangeland management specialist, Lincoln; and Dusty Schwandt, NRCS soil conservationist, Marysville.

The walks provide excellent opportunities for producers to see firsthand what works and what doesn’t and learn new techniques in problem-solving from peers and specialists alike, Kraft said.

“The average producer would benefit by hearing and talking about visual plant and management observations,” he said. “It is typically a very informal discussion with opportunities to ask a variety of questions. Plant identification, stocking rates, grazing systems, grazing season length, brush management, burning, etc., are all possibilities for discussion.”

There is no charge for these walks, but registration is encouraged. Questions: Contact Mary Howell at kfu.mary@gmail.com or 785.562.8726. Please include your name and the number of people planning to attend so adequate tour arrangements and refreshments can be made. Walk-ins are welcome.