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Haying And Wildlife

In many parts of the country, hay harvesting happens simultaneously with wildlife nesting and brooding in the hay field. This creates a conflict with grassland birds, rabbits, deer, and other animals trying to raise their young.

Pat Keyser is the director of the Center for Native Grasslands Management at the University of Tennessee. He recommends mowing slowly and looking ahead. Use a flushing bar on your machinery to nudge wildlife out of harm’s way and alter the cutting pattern.

"We have a tendency to start around the edges and work to the middle and for some critters, you know rabbits and deer, the fawns, that’s problematic," says Keyser. "But, if we are able to, depending on how the hay field lays start maybe more toward the middle and work our way out, that gives the wildlife a chance to flush and get to some cover."

Cool season grasses such as fescue, orchard grass, timothy and brome are at their prime for hay harvest right in the middle of nesting season. He says an alternative is to grow native, warm season grasses as a hay production tool.

"Things like Big Bluestem and Indiangrass don’t need to be harvested for hay until after the peak of the nesting season. So, what we’ve found is those later cutting dates have a lot less impact on nest success because so many of the nests are already off, and we still wind up getting good quality hay and not having to compromise," he says. "And in fact, some of those warm season species actually produce more hay per acre than our cool season species."

If you have several fields to harvest, save the fields closest to wetlands and CRP acreage for last because they will likely have a higher nesting density.