Winter Prescribed Burns and Strategy
A while back, I helped a friend with a winter prescribed burn at his farm in central Missouri. In 2004 we converted 35 acres of fescue pasture to little bluestem and wildflowers. We avoided planting the taller native grasses like Indian grass and big blustem because they will grow too thick and crowd out desirable plants and places for quail to travel through.
There's still plenty of tall grass on the farm. About 30 years ago his dad converted several fescue fields to the "big" native grasses like big bluestem and Indian grass. The stands were very thick and there weren't many quail around until we went to work. The past couple years we have completed several acres of edge feathering to provide shrubby cover and we have been conducting prescribed burns in August or September on the oldest warm-season grass fields. The stands look great for quail. Lots of bare ground the following year and a variety of native wildflowers and legumes.
In the newer plantings we have been conducting winter burns and sometimes fall burns. The stands are dominated by little bluestem so we don't have to worry about the grass getting too thick for quail. At least for a couple years.
You might be wondering why we burned all the cover in the winter and where will the quail and rabbits go afterwards. Actually, we only burned part of the field. See the picture below. Notice how we divide the field in half to provide some winter cover for the coveys of quail in the field. That's right. There are two coveys in this small field.
By burning only half of the field, we also maintain some nesting cover for the following spring. At the same time we have improved brooding cover all along next year's nesting cover. Also notice the scattered patches of edge feathering around the field.
On other burn units we include woody draws and small woodlots in the burn unit. These areas have low quality timber and can be excellent habitat for northern bobwhites. See the picture below. Notice how we include small woodlots and woody draws. To make burning easier we use trails for burn lines and only add disk lines where they are needed. This helps save time and money.
What about the edge feathering and shrub thickets? I don't mind burning up some shrubby or woody cover. There's still plenty of good cover and by periodically burning through woody cover we set it back just enough to avoid having to edge feather every five years.