Prescribed Burning Pastures and Ditch Banks

— Written By and last updated by Leeann Crump

I’ve seen lots of people out and about lately burning their pastures and ditch banks. With the cold weather we’ve been having, it may seem early to start thinking about bermuda grass management on our land, but it’s good to plan ahead because timing is critical. Controlled or prescribed burning of bermuda grass pastures and hayfields is one of the oldest management tools, but still very useful today.

The most common reason to burn is to remove the standing grass from last season. Last year’s grass will prevent sunlight from getting through to the new grass trying to break dormancy as well as decrease the quality of your first harvest if you are cutting it for hay. Burning also successfully removes late summer weed residue, such as spiny pigweed or sandspurs. Fire breaks down plant material from the previous summer and releases the nutrients so they are available in the soil. This can help promote future plant growth. Finally, the removal of dead thatch on the ground will not only allow sunlight to get through, but also help the ground to warm up quicker. Warming up the ground will help your bermuda grass to break dormancy faster.


Melted fence insulators from uncontrolled pasture burning.

Prescribed burning is different from wildfires, as I have recently experienced on my own farm. Embers from a neighboring prescribed ditch bank burn took flight across the road and landed on my property. The wind picked up and, since I have not burned yet, last year’s residue quickly took flame and, in a matter of seconds, wildfire was spreading across my property and into the neighboring woods. The insulators and temporary fencing on part of the farm are now melted and in ruins, as seen in the picture.

Since accidents happen, it’s important to remember how they can be prevented. Burning is very risky and you don’t want to do it unless you can do so safely. You will need to be able to control the fire if it gets out of hand. Also, you never want to burn when it is too windy. High winds can carry burning embers onto rooftops of houses and barns. You also want to be careful about burning too close to your fence. A fire will melt any plastic insulators. You should check local burning laws and consult the North Carolina Forestry Service to ensure there are no burning bans in effect. Land prep is the first step to plow a barrier along fences to contain any fires. Having a water hose at the ready or mobile water truck is very important. Unless caught early, buckets of water are usually unsuccessful at putting out wildfires. Always call 911 immediately if a fire gets out of control. In our rural areas, it can sometimes be half an hour before a fire truck can get to us. Sometimes our pastures are too wet for the firetrucks to be able to drive through as well.

Burning is very important for our land, just please remember to do so safely!

Tiffanee ConradTiffanee Conrad is an Extension Agent, Livestock with N.C. Cooperative Extension in Richmond County.

To contact Tiffanee for more research-based information on this and other ag-related topics, please call her office at 910.997.8255; e-mail or visit her office at 123 Caroline St. in Rockingham, NC.