Last fall, I wrote a blog about converting tall fescue pastures on my family farm into a native early successional plant community. Old-field management is one of my favorite techniques to improve a property for deer, and I want to provide an update on how the project is going!
After killing the fescue in October with glyphosate, I used prescribed fire in February to eliminate the thatch layer and allow native seeds to germinate. Fire is one of the best tools that you can use in old field management projects, as it is inexpensive and produces great results! If you’ve never used fire, fields are very easy to burn and a great place to learn how to use the technique. All that you need are good firebreaks and a drip-torch, and you too can use prescribed fire.
Vegetation and Wildlife Response
This spring, these fields exploded with a diversity of native and nonnative forbs and grasses. Many were annuals, which can be expected in the first year following fescue control. I knew that further treatment would be necessary, but the main plant that was growing was common ragweed. That was fine with me, as ragweed provides high quality forage for deer and great cover for turkey and quail broods! In addition, the fact that I eliminated the thick fescue provided a great area for gobblers to strut. I took advantage of this by harvesting a gobbler in early May, which is the first turkey that has been taken on the property in my lifetime. Turkeys didn’t use the fields much before this year, and it was great to reap the rewards of our old field management within six months of initially killing the fescue.
In early July, I revisited the field to see if further herbicide treatments were necessary. I spotted a few patches of bermudagrass, which can quickly spread across fields being managed for native vegetation. I treated these areas with 24 oz/acre Arsenal AC, which should take care of the bermudagrass and allow other native plants to grow. Since bermudagrass is an aggressive invasive, I’ll check these spots in a month to be sure I controlled all of it.
Aside from the bermudagrass, several other undesirable species such as crabgrass and lambsquarter are present. Many of these species will decrease in coverage with time, and I may decide to treat a few of these if they persist. Fortunately, much of the field is still dominated by desirable forbs at this time, including ragweed, daisy fleabane, and pokeweed. Additionally, native grasses such as broomsedge, little bluestem, and eastern gamagrass are starting to establish across the fields. All of this is happening within the first year after treatment, and we PLANTED NOTHING! The improvement in deer forage availability alone is incredible, but what really made me excited was the sound of a bobwhite calling in the field! The difference that killing the nonnative grass and burning has made for several wildlife species is an astounding success, and I can’t wait to see how deer respond to all of the new food and cover this fall during hunting season.
Old field management is truly one of the easiest, most economical techniques you can use to improve your property. If you want to learn more about the topic, check out our comprehensive podcast with Wade GeFellers. This podcast covers the first steps to converting a pasture into a native early successional plant community, and is one of the most informative resources on the topic. I hope that you will consider doing a similar project on your land this fall!