It's not drought conditions, it's not flooding and it's not a lack of food that kills more wildlife in Arkansas from late spring through summer in Arkansas, it's bush-hogging. Landowners hop on their tractors with bush-hog attached and start mowing to knock back vegetation in old fields, pastures and other grassy areas around their property. The impact to nesting and young-of-the-year wildlife can be deadly.
Most ground-dwelling wildlife nest from April until August with the primary nesting period being April 1 to July 1.
A critical rearing period adds two to four weeks after the birth when they remain vulnerable to tractor wheels and mower blades. We get reports every year from landowners sickened by accidental destruction of nesting or young wildlife from bush-hogging. But many adults, eggs and/or young are destroyed and unnoticed because they are covered with the clipped vegetation.
There are several ways to reduce harming wildlife this time of year:
Delay mowing until after the primary nesting season which ends in normal years around July 15 but can extend as late as Aug. 1. Delaying even later is better.
Many white-tailed deer fawns, quail and turkey nests could be protected by simply delaying this operation until after July 1.
Strip disk instead of bush-hogging. Strip disking is a proven wildlife habitat practice beneficial to many species of wildlife. However, it should be done before April 1 or after Aug. 1 to avoid destroying ground-dwelling wildlife. Strip disk strips 30-50 feet wide, disking one-third of the field each year. Rotate disked strips and on the fourth year start back on the strips you disked the first year. Strip disk one-half of the field each year if young woody seedlings are a problem in the field to set these back. (hard-to-control woody seedlings may require herbicide.)
Disking should leave about 30 percent of the vegetation residue on top of the ground. The ground does not have to be disked as if you were preparing a seed bed for planting. This saves time and money and has far greater wildlife benefits over bush-hogging. Disk on the contour if the ground is sloping to avoid soil erosion.
Start mowing in the middle of the field and mow towards the outer edges. This will allow wildlife to stay in existing cover and be pushed to the edges of the field where permanent cover is usually found. Wildlife will not become trapped inside an ever-decreasing circle.
This mowing technique also decreases loss to predators that make an easy meal of a rabbit or young quail trying to cross open ground. This cutting technique is especially beneficial to wildlife when cutting hay fields.
When mowing, set the bush-hog as high as possible or practical, depending on your mowing objective.
Install wildlife flushing bars. This is a bar with chains hanging 2 feet apart mounted to the front of the tractor that spooks wildlife out of the cutting path. (One study showed juvenile rabbit morality was reduced by up to 80 percent when using a flushing bar.) Plans can be requested at firstname.lastname@example.org
Areas traditionally managed by bush-hogging can be managed using prescribed burning.
This practice is conducted from November to the middle of March each year, outside of the nesting and brood rearing period.
Burning has significant wildlife benefits compared to mowing or strip disking. Landowners should contact the Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) before they burn. The AFC and the AGFC can provide instruction on proper burning methods.
If your fields contain mostly fescue or Bermuda grass, they should be converted to native grasses. Many introduced grasses provide little wildlife benefit.
Once treated with herbicide, these fields may be managed by delayed mowing, strip disking, prescribed burning or planting wildlife friendly vegetation.
The USDA estimates the average cost to mow is $22 per acre, which will continue to increase as fuel prices increase.
You have options to traditional mowing that can save fuel and reduce the mortality of wildlife on your property. The pay off can be more wildlife on your property to enjoy and more money in your pocket.
For more information, contact Long at 877-972-5438.