Ground-nesting grassland birds have experienced steep declines in population over the past several decades, concurrent with the conversion of the Midwestern landscape to intensive, row-crop agriculture. With nearly all native grasslands eliminated, the existing perennial ‘working grasslands’ are extremely valuable as nesting habitat for grassland bird species, many of which are Species of Management Concern. While leaving a portion of pasture ungrazed during the nesting season is known to improve grassland bird reproductive success, this represents sacrificed productivity to a grass-based livestock farmer and little is currently know about the tradeoffs to the farmer or strategies to reduce economic losses. ‘Bird-friendly’ management of pastures is uncommon due to both a lack of producer knowledge about the importance of working grasslands as nesting habitat and, of critical importance, the loss of quality forage. This proposal, titled Evaluating and mitigating forage losses associated with a rest paddock for ground-nesting birds in pastures, will raise both awareness about the importance of pastures as grassland habitat and producer knowledge about ‘bird-friendly’ grazing practices, as well as quantify forage and economic loss during the nesting season. It also explores mowing and spring prescribed fire as potential loss mitigation techniques. Results and recommendations generated will reach a wide audience including grass-based farmers, conservation and grazing professionals, and consumers. The ultimate goal of this proposal is to increase the conservation value of working grasslands through the adoption of bird-friendly grazing practices while maintaining or improving farm profits.
Project objectives from proposal:
The intended learning outcomes for grass-based livestock farmers and grazing and conservation professionals include increased knowledge of the value of pastures to wildlife and increased awareness of the benefits of the rest paddock practice (and other bird-friendly practices). It will also allow informed decision-making by farmers and professionals by providing data on actual forage production, forage quality, and economic output and offering potential strategies to mitigate losses. Furthermore, depending on results, it could also change the perception of economic losses when using this practice. The ultimate action outcome for farmers is adoption of the rest paddock practice on their grazed lands and a resulting increase in grassland bird reproductive success.
Intended learning outcomes for consumers are similar to those mentioned above. The action outcome is that consumers seek out bird-friendly, grass-based animal products in the marketplace and even accept higher prices for such products. An increasing demand for these products simultaneous with increased supply will ensure the sustainability of these changes in grazing management and continued adoption by new farmers.
The learning outcomes are short-term goals and can be evaluated through post-presentation surveys. The action outcomes are long-term goals and the ability to assess progress toward them is beyond the timeframe of this proposal.