A Bold New Plan to (Re)create Grassland Habitat for Upland Birds


Blue Nest Grows Better Beef for a Bigger Purpose

Where have all the pheasants and quail gone?  Over 53% of grassland birds, including upland game birds such as pheasants and quail, have disappeared over the last 50 years. All of us have stories, either from our own lives, or from older hunters we know, about how “birds were everywhere” decades ago.  As farming and ranching practices have changed, bird habitat has dramatically decreased, and with it bird populations. So what can we do about it?

Traditional approaches to conservation are based on the fundamental premise that conservation land is inherently “unproductive.” We talk about taking this land “out of production,” further reinforcing this notion that we either have land that produces a valuable crop, or provides conservation benefits, but never both.

Over the last 15 years, a few innovative farmers and ranchers throughout the U.S. have pioneered a totally different approach called regenerative agriculture. They’ve moved from fighting nature by killing what wants to live and desperately trying to grow what wants to die, to working with nature.

This requires increasing biodiversity, building soil health, and growing more and better plants, both perennials and annuals. These practitioners have discovered it’s possible to BOTH grow nourishing food and create wildlife habitat, clean the wate and cycle carbon from the air to the soil.  The key is to better understand what the natural system wants to do, and work with it instead of against it.

One group achieving significant results and scale is the National Audubon Society’s Conservation Ranching Initiative, which now has certified over 1.8 million acres of grasslands enrolled across the Great Plains. These ranchers are using their cattle and bison to actively create bird habitat -- not by removing them from the land, but by changing the way they graze. In essence, these ranchers replicate the way free-roaming bison herds grazed hundreds of years ago, by putting many cattle in a small part of the pasture for a short time, followed by a long rest period.  Animals only have access to a particular portion of the pasture for a few days per year. The rest of the year, that land is at rest.

This adaptive grazing approach produces a mosaic of grasses, clovers, and herbs of varying height and density; long periods without disturbance allow it. This is very different from conventional grazing, where the cattle have access to all the pasture all year, and thus graze the desirable grasses right to the ground while leaving the undesirable weeds ungrazed. This is often what you see as you drive throughout the Great Plains - miles and miles of pasture that looks like a golf course green, with a few tall plants here and there.

Obviously the grasslands managed adaptively provide ideal nesting habitat. Because birds are free to go wherever they want, studies find more birds on adaptively grazed pastures because these ranches simply have what birds want and need: habitat for shelter and nesting, clean water, and food sources. Adaptive grazing yields dramatic increases above and below ground insects and pollinators -- the foundation to the food chain essential for birds and other wildlife.
What is surprising is that in addition to creating bird habitat, adaptive grazing also produces more grass of higher quality. This means that over time, ranchers who graze this way can actually grow more pounds of beef per acre, because each acre of pasture has more grass that is more nutritious. Truly a win-win for the ranchers, cattle, and birds!  Because this grass is more nutrient-dense, it is possible for some of the ACR ranchers to eliminate the grain they used to feed to their cattle, allowing them to participate in the premium market for 100% grassfed beef as well.

Blue Nest Beef is a public benefit corporation formed by 4 of these pioneering adaptive ranchers to select the cattle from Audubon certified ranches that can make the highest quality steaks, roast and burger. Blue Nest delivers that beef directly to the millions of US consumers who care about bird habitat, and want to purchase directly from the ranchers who share their values. Although they just started shipping their beef subscription boxes in November 2019, the founders have been both using adaptive grazing, and marketing the ultimate quality beef, for over 15 years.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are proud to partner with Blue Nest Beef to bring better beef with a bigger purpose to those who love hunting, and want access to incredible beef that builds habitat two ways: first, by the very process of raising their cattle; and second, by donating a portion of every sale to Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever to support our shared habitat and conservation programs.
For more information, and to get 10% off your first beef box, go to bluenestbeef.com/pheasants-forever/.