By Mark Fike
The other day I was bush hogging a field that had to be cut before the deadline in order to stay in a federal program. I really don’t like cutting fields in the winter, but the field was overdue and would get away from me if I did not cut it this year.
Before my tractor broke down a few months ago, I had cut all but a small section of waist-high cover. The section was maybe 20 yards wide and 60 yards long. While mowing it, I was stunned to count nearly a dozen rabbits moving about in that cover.
This experience just drove home the point I had learned so many times before—sometimes even the smallest cover can provide a place of refuge for animals.
Most of the time I have seen this in relationship to deer and deer hunting. However, when mowing, I saw just how many rabbits were using this cover even though it wasn’t that large.
We can all make small, but great, cover on our land, leases, and even family land. It doesn’t take much effort and the results are quite good.
If you have the rights to do so, cut some undesirable trees down. By undesirable, I mean trees that are being shaded out by larger trees, tree species that are not useful to wildlife, or a tree that’s simply in a bad spot. Small trees are great for this and large trees can be taken down too.
If you are unfamiliar with using a chainsaw properly, enlist some help from a knowledgeable friend or family member because chainsaws can do a lot of damage to trees – and your legs too!
When hinge cutting, the idea is to cut a wedge out of a tree trunk on the side where you want the tree to fall, then back-cut just enough for the tree to fall but still remain attached to the trunk/stump if possible. The dropped part of the tree creates cover above the ground that animals can get under. Drop a few trees like this and you are really making some nice cover.
I choose small blocks of land to do a few of these, and by the end of the summer, briars and weeds are coming up making a nasty thicket where all sorts of animals can thrive. If you do this for deer, it can be a sanctuary or bedding area if you leave the area alone.
If dropping a large tree, you should consider using the main trunk for firewood or donating it to someone who can use it. But take the limbs and top to create brush piles. Brush piles are best made with some pallets or old tires as a base for rabbits to hide in (puncture the tires so water does not fill them and make a mosquito pit – AND be sure it is legal to use or “dispose” of tires in this manner).
By creating a good foundation and then adding the brush on top, the haven will last many years instead of one or two years. Sometimes you can just refresh the pile by adding additional brush to the top.
One other easy thing to do is simply not mowing a certain area. Leaving an area to grow for a year or two can really benefit small animals. You can rotate the fields you mow too. Leaving one to grow for a year or two, then mowing, is a great practice if you have the means to mow it and don’t let it get away from you.
But, the best practice that used to be done regularly was simply not cutting the corners or edges and leaving those spots alone.
These small practices can pay big dividends and increase butterflies, rabbits, deer, and turkey (think nesting cover) for all of us who love wildlife.
So this winter when it is too cold to do much outside, think about what areas you could make a small investment like this and get the reward in the coming years.