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National Quail Conference Wrapping Up in Springfield
Missouri Ag Connection - 08/04/2022

The future for six native species of quail in North America has been the focus this week in Springfieldm Mo., for a joint conference between the National Bobwhite Technical Committee and the National Quail Symposium. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and other conservation partners are hosting the presentations on quail management and research.

Northern bobwhite quail populations have declined in Missouri and other states due to lost or degraded habitat and other environmental factors. At the conference, MDC and other public and private wildlife managers will share research and land management practices that boost quail. Presentations will also include conservation for other species such as Gambel's quail and scaled quail found in western states.

No matter the species, quality habitat is the key for stable quail populations. Quail are ground nesting and feeding birds. They need places with grass, forb, and shrubby cover where they can safely raise broods, find food, and escape predators. A kickoff for the conference was a habitat-focused field trip July 31 at the Double J Ranch owned by Jef Hodges near Clinton. Small game biologists from Kentucky and a local farm couple practicing conservation ranching visited pastures that he manages with patch burn grazing.

"The main reason I do this is for wildlife," Hodges said of patch burn grazing. "I use livestock as a management tool."

A focus for MDC private land programs is helping cattle producers develop grazing systems that are profitable but also beneficial to wildlife. That's also a focus for Hodges work as grasslands coordinator for the National Bobwhite & Grassland Initiative, a coordinated effort to prove that bobwhite populations can rebound with proper habitat management. Grazing done properly can be profitable and help quail.

"When grazing is done right, wildlife becomes a by-product of the commercial operation," Hodges said.

Patch burn grazing uses prescribed fire to prompt cattle into a rotational grazing pattern that also improves wildlife habitat. For example, Hodges uses fire to divide pastures with native grasses and forbs into a three-year rotation. A third of the pasture is burned every three years. Cattle graze heaviest in the most recent burn plot because that area has the most fresh and palatable forage. They graze less in the area burned the previous year and least in the three-year-old burn area. The grazing and fire regime reduces thatch and creates a lot of plant structure diversity, which enables young quail broods to more easily move on the ground to find food and escape predators. Taller growth in the least grazed areas provide shelter, nesting sites, and food sources.

Hodges consistently has bobwhite quail coveys on his farm in an era when, alarmingly, many farms do not. But he is also a landowner with business relationships with cattle owners who lease grazing rights on his native grass pastures. This year, due to hot weather, drought, and health issues among a renter's cattle that had been on fescue, his patch burn pastures got a heavier stocking rate than normal. Forage is grazed low, especially in this year's burn areas. But native grasslands evolved amid drought and periodic heavy grazing by herds of bison and elk.

"Native grasslands are resilient," said Steve Clubine, a prairie expert and a retired MDC grassland biologist. "It can take a beating one year, and as long as you don't repeat that year after year the way our ancestors did, it will rebound like crazy."

For more information on managing native warm season grass pastures, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/4Tf.


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