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Size Matters – Old Field and Grassland Management

When managing your open areas for better wildlife habitat it's important to consider the size and how to best utilize the area.

Whether you are interested in deer, turkeys, quail, pollinators or a list of other species, grasslands and old fields should be a part of your farm.  But how big of grasslands or old fields should you have? Well, recent research suggests that bigger is better. For most species, the bigger the field size, the lower the predation.  Let’s consider deer. Deer will often use grasslands or old fields for bedding, but they can bed elsewhere if forced to. However, deer almost exclusively fawn in grass/forb fields or old fields.  Recent research has shown that predation is common among newborn fawns. Anywhere from 10% to 50% mortality, depending on location. It is common sense that if the only fawning area on a property are small ¼ acre fields, those would be much easier for predators like coyotes and bobcats to hunt effectively.  Having large field sizes reduces the search efficiency of these predators, thus reducing fawn predation.

The same is true to ground nesting birds like turkeys and quail.  Research has shown that nest predation is one of the most important factors regarding population increases/decreases.  Turkeys and quail nests both take 20+ days to hatch, once incubation begins. They also are vulnerable during the several days of laying eggs, prior to incubation.  The list of nest predators is much longer for ground nesting birds, and includes; raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, snakes, and others. Again, recent research has proven that as field size increases, predation decreases.

Obviously, for pollinators, grassland birds, and many other species, the same rule applies, bigger is better.  Not necessarily due to predation as in the other examples, but due to the increased number of flowering plants.  It makes sense that the bigger the field, likely the more blooming plants, and more blooming plants is good for pollinators.  The more plants usually mean more insects, which is important to many birds, reptiles and amphibians. Next time you are evaluating your habitat, consider if there are opportunities to expand your field size, connect fields, etc.  You will likely discover some great benefits for a wide range of species of wildlife.

Kyle Hedges - Land & Legacy Consultant