CANTON — Alan Neufeld’s wife, Kathy, thought he was a “little crazy” when he told her he was going to buy a pasture just to enjoy the wildlife. But, she didn’t object to the project. The result is a peaceful place to observe wildlife and do a little hunting. Neufeld’s work is being recognized with the 2017 McPherson County Soil Conservation District’s Wildlife Habitat Award.
Neufeld, Moundridge, is a science teacher at Moundridge High School who takes the environment and being an environmentalist seriously. When he learned the pasture, located north of Canton and owned by Bill and Marlys Marston, was coming up for sale, he began thinking about the possibilities of managing it as a wildlife habitat. He purchased the property nine years ago and began work on converting it from a working pasture.
“Shortly after we purchased the pasture, I contacted Kyle McDonald with the Kansas Wildlife and Parks about what we could do, and he helped me layout a plan for plantings,” Neufeld said.
The plan included four planting areas that would help provide barriers to the pasture from the road and discourage poaching as well as provide habitat for wildlife. The planting areas are positioned on the perimeters of the roughly 60-acre pasture. A creek running through the property provides water for wildlife part of the year. A beaver dam on an adjoining pasture also helps hold water on the bottom of the pasture, now that beavers have returned after a several-year absence.
The Neufelds received a grant through a NRCS program to help with purchasing trees and shrubs and removing undesirable trees and plants from the property.
“I spent a couple hundred hours cutting hedge, brush and the larger trees; piling them up; and burning,” Neufeld said. He estimated he cleared about nine acres of trees from the pasture. “We needed to cut down the larger trees so they wouldn’t provide perches for birds of prey to attack the wildlife.”
He added that he wished now that he would have had someone come in and do the clearing work that had equipment to pull out the stumps and roots. He continues to fight regrowth.
New plantings on the property were made about seven years ago and all were done in the same year. Neufeld and his family did the plantings using a 3-point planter owned by Wildlife and Parks. Most of the planting areas are 300-400 feet in length with six feet between the plants. Each planting area has rows of Eastern Red Cedar, American plum, Peking cotonester and golden currant. Weed guard was placed between rows. He also planted, just for fun, a few pear trees and some persimmons scattered around the pasture. One area of older trees was left along the creek in the middle of the pasture.
As anyone who has tried to keep newly planted trees alive in Kansas knows, there is more to planting trees than sticking them in the ground and walking away. Neufeld said he spent the next three years keeping them going with watering as needed.
“I had a 300-gallon tank on a trailer with an electric pump I hooked up to a generator that I used to haul water to the pasture,” Neufeld said. “I would make eight or nine trips into Canton to fill up with water whenever I came up.”
The work paid off as Neufeld estimated he had about a 95% survival rate, even though there were some very dry, hot years. He is now being rewarded for all the work he, Kathy and their kids put in to establish the habitat.
Neufeld regularly sees a large variety of migrating song birds on the property, noting that blue birds, chickadees, black cap chickadees, rose-breasted nut hatches, American gold finches and other varieties find his pasture a welcoming place to stay for awhile on their travels. Quail and deer are often frequently seen on the property as well as other native Kansas species.
Neufeld spends hours in the pasture observing the birds and animals that call it home and has a tree stand near one of his feeders where he can sit and watch what comes by. He does some deer hunting on the property, but uses it primarily for relaxing and enjoying the wildlife. There haven’t been cattle in the pasture since he purchased it.
Neufeld encourages wildlife by planting food plots and having feeders placed in several places in the pasture. He has also restored grass areas by planting big and little bluestem and Indian grass. Neufeld has burned the pasture once since he purchased it to encourage growth of native grass and get rid of “weed” trees and bushes and would like to do it again, but the last few years have been dry enough that he has put off the project.
“The year I did burn, we made sure that we had good fire breaks around the habitat plantings. After all that work, we didn’t want to damage them in a fire,” Neufeld said.
Neufeld believes the project has accomplished what he wanted to do.
“I’m an environmentalist. This has been a labor of love for me, and I’m still enjoying it,” he said.