A Working Farm That’s Also a Grassland Bird Refuge

Hay Field

Geoff and his wife Shanna Maltby work alongside their family on a 120 acre farm in Acton. They raise livestock and grow grain crops. When we launched our Bird-Friendly Certified Hay Program three years ago, Geoff was one of the first farmers to join. Geoff agreed to delay the date he cuts hay to protect grassland birds. He enrolled a 10 acre hay field that turned into a safe breeding and nesting ground for grassland birds.

“It doesn’t make much difference to me to delay the cutting my hay field, but for grassland birds it means they survive,” explained Geoff. Grassland birds such as bobolink and the eastern meadowlark breed and make their nests on the ground in grasslands. In the last 10 years, bobolink and eastern meadowlark populations have declined 33 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively, due to loss of natural grassland habitat. Thankfully, late cut hay fields provide a suitable alternative habitat for grassland birds.

Eastern meadowlark
Eastern meadowlark nesting in a grassland.

“I can give you a dozen reasons for growing bird-friendly certified hay but not one reason against it,” said Geoff. Being a part of the program made sense for Geoff because he’s motivated to protect grassland birds on his farm and by the quality of hay he needs to produce to feed his own horses. It’s a natural extension of Geoff’s farming operations and stewardship ethic.

In the past, Geoff built a manure storage facility, planted five acres of land in a floodplain with trees and fenced out livestock to protect the community’s nearby well water sources. Geoff took advantage of the Growing Forward 2 funding program and subsidies from CVC for the tree plantings. He also maintains fencerows between fields to provide links between natural areas for wildlife. “This is as much a wildlife refuge as it is a working farm,” said Geoff.

You can make a difference like the Maltby family. Learn more about growing, selling or purchasing Bird-Friendly Certified Hay by contacting Mark Eastman, CVC’s Agricultural Extension Program Coordinator, at 1-800-668-5557 ext. 430 or by visiting www.birdfriendlyhay.ca.

Comments (5)

  1. This article made my day! Thank you, CVC, for launching your bird-friendly certified hay program, and all farmers who answered your call. These are the farmers Canada needs: If you treat nature well, it will treat you well over the long run.

  2. Geoff, and other farmers, could also try swathing from the middle of the field out. This gives some of these birds the chance to escape into the fence rows rather than being squeezed into the centre with nowhere to go. Great to hear about this kind of effort in southern Ontario.

  3. Hi Jeff. That’s a good point! Harvesting hay in a spiral formation starting from the centre of the field is one of the components of our Bird-Friendly Certified Hay program. You’re absolutely right – it provides grassland birds time to escape.

  4. Thanks June. Right now, the program is only available in the Credit River watershed. If it’s success continues, there’s potential to expand it to neighbouring watersheds, municipalities, throughout the province and beyond.

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