The pastures, crop fields and woodlots in my corner of rural Henry County host good numbers of deer and turkey, but you don’t hear many bobwhites whistling these days. One reason is that you can’t hear much of anything over the fleet of riding mowers and small tractors that is deployed this time of year. Even when the mowers are silent, I have the nagging suspicion they are partly to blame for the scarcity of the once familiar sound of "Bob-Bob-White" across our springtime landscape.
We pay a high price to manicure our manors - about $3.50 a gallon! Plus at least a couple grand for that bigger mower, which was purchased with the idea of getting done faster . . . but which as often just mows more. The acreage that gets mowed flat every week by us industrious rural Missourians, 2 to 10 acres at a time, is astonishing; literally hundreds of acres, plus many miles of ditch banks, just along my brief daily commute. There are two households within one short stretch of rural blacktop I know which have his-and-hers matching mowers. Beyond the questionable finances of recreational mowing, what of the time that might have been better spent fishing or playing with the kids? And what about habitat lost?
Many rural homesteads sit on 5 to 20 acres that were once the road frontage of larger farms. Stopping mowing the "back" 5 or 10 acres won’t create wildlife nirvana, but with a bit of management which actually costs less over time, many of these places could host a successful quail nest, a few rabbits, meadow larks, kingbirds and other critters that make country life more pleasant. Think what might be created if several neighbors got together and cut back their cutting.
Of course, what I’m suggesting creates the issue of what to do with all that standing grass. You may have enough space to graze a couple calves. Or, together with a neighbor, you might have just enough to split a beef for the freezer every year and still provide better habitat than the previous expanse of 2-inch tall grass ever did. These days the value of home-raised, grass-fed beef plus that of gasoline not purchased might add up to real savings.
If grazing isn’t for you, how about planting a patch of native prairie grasses with wildflowers? It’s nice to look at and might hold some economic value as well. I’ve long wondered if there is an economic niche for a small-scale, mobile grass pelletizing service. It might work something like this: At the end of the season, for a price or a share of the year’s production, most of your standing grass is cut, pelletized on site and then loaded into a hopper which automatically feeds the pellets into one of those nifty outdoor furnaces. Some should be left standing to provide winter cover and next spring’s nesting cover. I like the thought of someday living in a grass-heated home.
By the way, the idea for this post came while I was mowing my own 2-acre lawn. Yes, I have a touch of English Manor Syndrome myself. But, I’m a recovering recreational mower, and I enjoy the patches of native plants that have replaced retired portions of my lawn, and the wildlife they attract, much more than I miss the extra mower time. I’ll catch you here next week.