Nothing changes the landscape of your property overnight like hay mowing your fields. Within a few days or a weekend, the landscape has drastically changed for wildlife that used those grasslands.
Here are some common sense ideas that will benefit the wildlife and minimize the effects on juveniles or smaller species that rely on the cover the grasses provide.
Time to mow your hay with nesting season in mind. For more nests in the wild, postpone haymaking until July 15 or later. This gives ground-nesting birds time to hatch their brood. The breeding season for quail, turkey and passerine birds that use pastures starts in early to mid-April and can last through August.
Set your mower as high as possible to avoid ground-dwelling wildlife. Lifting a mower as little as 10 inches above ground level can save terrapins and small mammals. Install Plexiglas around the leading edge and sides of a mower to prevent wildlife from being sucked into the mower blades.
Cut hay from the center of the field and mow to the outer edges so that young and adults can remain in the existing cover during the hay period. Animals can also move to the edges as you cut instead of being trapped in a shrinking circle. This method also reduces the predation of rabbits and young quail attempting to cross open, recently hayed ground.
Leave uncut field edges for wildlife coverage. When mowing hay, leave a strip of hay 30 feet or wider around the outside of a field uncut to provide food, nests, escape and breeding cover for wildlife. Predators find nests more easily in narrow strips than in wider borders. Irregularly shaped field edges provide even more cover for wildlife. Border width can vary, but a minimum width of 30 feet is optimal. This equates to just over an acre of habitat for wildlife in a field with a 100-foot-wide strip a mile long.
Spool bars can be mounted to the front of a tractor to clear wildlife from the path of dangerous wheels and blades. You can make a coil bar by hanging a chain 28 inches long about 2 feet away from a piece of angle iron. The beam must be at least 10 feet long and staggered to the front of the tractor. The 28-inch pendant chains should be long enough to ride just above the ground surface. The first chain should be 36 inches from the tractor frame. This method has been shown to effectively deter wildlife such as rabbits, turkeys and some fawns before being hit by the hay cutter.
There is no doubt that mowing hay changes the landscape of your property for a short period of time. These steps will minimize the negative impact to wildlife. Mowing hay has some long-term effects on the landscape, but it’s the short-term effects, mainly during the breeding season, that can be harmful to wildlife.