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CALICO ROCK (AGFC) – Nothing changes the landscaping of your property overnight like hay cutting your fields. Most of the time, a hay cutting operation is done over a short period of time such as a couple of days or a weekend.

Suddenly the landscape has changed for wildlife that used those grasslands. Is there a better way you can minimize disturbance to wildlife? Yes! Here are some common sense haying ideas which will benefit wildlife: 

• TIMING IS EVERYTHING – Time your hay cutting with the nesting season in mind. For increased nesting success, delay haying until July 15 or later. This will allow ground-nesting birds time to hatch their broods. The nesting period for quail, turkey and songbirds utilizing pastures begins in early to mid-April and can continue through August. 

• AIM HIGH – Set your mower as high as possible to avoid ground-dwelling wildlife. Raising a mower as little as four inches off ground level can save turtles and small mammals. 

• MOW INSIDE OUT – Cut hay starting in the middle of the field and mow towards the outer borders which will allow young and adult wildlife to stay in existing cover during the haying operation period. Less wildlife will be killed by tractor wheels or cutter blades, since they will not become trapped inside an ever-decreasing circle. This method also decreases predation of rabbits and young quail trying to cross open, recently hayed ground. 

• PROTECT FIELD BORDERS – Leave uncut field borders for wildlife cover. During hay cutting operations, leave a 30-foot or wider strip of hay around the outside of a field uncut to provide food, nesting, escape and brood cover for wildlife. Predators can find nests easier in narrow strips than in wider borders. Irregularly shaped field borders provide even more cover for wildlife. Border width can vary, but a minimum width of 30 feet is optimal. This amounts to a little over an acre of habitat for wildlife in a field having a 30-foot-wide strip that is a mile in length. 

• INSTALL WILDLIFE FLUSHING BARS ON TRACTORS – Flushing bars can be mounted on the front of a tractor to move wildlife from the path of dangerous wheels and cutter. You can make a flushing bar by hanging 28 inch lengths of chain about two feet apart from a piece of angle iron. The bar should be at least 10 feet in length and mounted offset on the front of the tractor. The 28-inch hanging chains should be long enough to ride just above the surface of the ground. The first chain should be located 36 inches from the tractor frame. This method has been shown to effectively scare wildlife such as rabbits, turkeys and some fawns away before they are hit by the hay cutter.

To sum up, there is no doubt that hay cutting operations change the landscape of your property for a short period of time but hopefully with these steps the negative impact for wildlife can be minimized. Hay cutting has some long term effects for the landscape; however, it's the short term effects, primarily during nesting season, which can be detrimental to wildlife.

For more information on establishing and maintaining land for wildlife habitat improvement and programs to help, contact an AGFC private lands biologist at: Fort Smith, 877-478-1043; Harrison, 870-741-8600 ext. 114; Hope, 877-777-5580; Calico Rock, 877-297-4331; Little Rock, 877-470-3650; Brinkley, 877-734-4581; Jonesboro, 877-972-5438 and Monticello, 877-367-3559.

Haying your pasture the wildlife friendly way by Ted Zawislak, AGFC Private Lands Biologist, North Central Arkansas Area