Part of my farm chores as a teenager included hitching the old Case tractor to a Bush Hog mower every couple of weeks to cut the fields. It was so boring that I painted racing stripes on the tractor’s cowl (hood) so I could imagine it going faster.
When my buddies came over to rabbit hunt in the winter, we always went to nearby farms. I never really thought about why we didn’t have rabbit, quail, and most other wildlife around our own farm.
The answer was right before me: recreational mowing.
“Years ago, back in the glory days of quail—when Kentucky had good numbers of quail—folks didn’t mow their fields for appearance,” says Ben Robinson, wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Back then, people didn’t have the time or the resources to keep their farm looking like a golf course. And farms were much better for wildlife because of that.”
Grown-over fields provide critical cover and protection for wildlife, especially for young and nesting animals. Weeds growing in uncut fields also provide seeds for birds. Helping wildlife can be as simple as mowing less, even with fields that are just a couple of acres in size.
“If you do feel the need to mow, try to leave some areas alone to grow up and provide cover,” Robinson advises. “You can mow alternating strips in a field, or rotate the fields that you mow every year. Anything that you allow to grow up will be beneficial to wildlife.”
Landowners should still mow along road frontages for better visibility for drivers. Mowing areas closest to the road and around houses should help keep neighbors and family happy. It’s the idle fields not being used for crops or grazing that can grow for wildlife.
Landowners with more time and resources can consider more intensive management of their fields. Ridding fields of fescue through herbicides can allow other plant seeds buried in the soil to sprout. Disking strips in a field can produce the same effect at a lower cost.
Farmers can also consider replacing fescue fields with native grasses and wildflowers. Shaker Village near Harrodsburg is an outstanding example of how fescue eradication can help wildlife.
I wish someone had written this column back when I was a teenager. Maybe then Dad would have let me use my time doing more important things than mowing—like fishing in Walter’s pond.
Private lands wildlife biologists can visit your farm to evaluate your property for wildlife potential and offer advice. Take advantage of this free service by calling the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources in Frankfort at (800) 858-1549 for more information.