Haying With Wildlife in Mind

This comes to us from Jimmy Doyle, South Dakota State Natural Resource Management Field Specialist, and iGrow a service of South Dakota State University Extension. Anyone who has spent time cutting hay knows that hayland can be a magnet for wildlife in late spring and early summer. Hay fields are often considered an “ecological trap” for wildlife; that is, they appear to be high quality habitat for nesting or feeding due to tall, dense grass and legumes, but often lead to increased mortality once harvesting is under way. Mortality can be especially high for grassland nesting birds and young mammals that aren’t able to escape harvesting equipment. It is difficult to remove all of the negative effects to wildlife, but there are strategies that can mitigate some of these impacts. Wildlife-Friendly Cutting Patterns Wildlife mortality can be reduced by some simple changes to your harvesting practices. One simple way to increase wildlife survival is to cut hay from the center of a field toward the edges or from one side of the field to the other (Figure 1), rather than circling around towards the center. Often, animals will move out of the path of the swather into the remaining standing vegetation that has not been cut yet. If the hay is being cut in a spiral pattern towards the center of the field, the remaining grass patch becomes increasingly tighter. Animals may be hesitant to flee across the open, cut portion of the field, which can result in higher direct mortalit

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One thought on “Haying With Wildlife in Mind

  1. Dear Kathy,
    Thank you for this article. In my experience, most farmers absolutely WILL NOT use flushing bars because of the fear that something will go wrong and wreck their mowers.

    Two people I know–Don Ruzicka of Killam, Alberta, and Dave Heidel of Random Lake, Wisconsin–set aside certain small parcels just for ground-nesting birds. Dave H. calls a small 5-acre piece his Boblink Field. He doesn’t hay this until the boblink nesting season is over (the same works for meadow larks, savannah sparrows, etc.).

    Farmers who practice any of the intensive grazing system using small paddocks are among those who could benefit most from this practice because often they are actually “bare” for time periods too short for successful nesting for some ground-nesting birds.

    I will talk to a couple people about starting in the centre and see if there is anyone willing to try it in my area.


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