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Karl Guenther Column: For The Birds


“It’s for the birds” might be a valid response to the question, “What’s that for?” Indicating a bar with dangling chains, attached to the front of a tractor.  That apparatus is a “Flushing Bar”, a wildlife conservation tool, resurrected from the 1930s, and adapted to today’s high tech motorized farm machinery. 

The whole story is available in a new, 22-page booklet published by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) a program put together by MSU Extension and the Wildlife Division of Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The flushing bar came to my attention several months ago, by way of Mark Ludwig, technician with the Allegan Conservation District, as he was armed with a little grant money and an enthusiasm for what he saw as a viable means to conserve wildlife nesting in hayfields--and to do it without disrupting the farm routine of raising, mowing, and storing hay to feed livestock.  Some farmers have professed being made ill by the sudden realization that the mower bar has just run through a nest of pheasants; others have actually discovered, later, a small fawn mangled into a bale of hay.

Working from a lot of data and anecdotal material from our neighbors to the North, “Ducks Unlimited, Canada”. The flushing bar, to quote the MNFI paper, is a simple tool that drags chains ahead of hay mowers to scare wildlife out of the way.  Mark’s task was to find area farmers willing to at least try the idea.  He had money to offset whatever the cost might be.

One of the stories that could be told was a collection of anecdotes out of Minnesota where, in 2006, ag producers designed flushing bars to fit various types of harvesting equipment. Several participants reported remarkable success in the survival of pheasants, ducks and deer, and indicated they’d continue the practice.

This year five area farmers tried out the flushing bars  in the area. Paul Grant of Hamilton says, “It works pretty well; it’s handy.  You would think it could get in the way, but it don’t.” Dave VanAntwerp of Otsego says, “This is the first year I can remember we didn’t have turkeys and deer in the hay bales.” And Rheo Gomber of Bloomingdale says, “Any farmer has the skills to build this . . . Probably from scrap materials just laying around.”

If there’s a mowing machine in your inventory, you just might want to add the appropriate flushing bar so that the wildlife guests in your hayfields are only moved out and not mowed down.  The original design of the flushing bar and details of modifications are online at:

www.theflushingbarproject.net.  The 22-page booklet, “Agricultural Practices that Conserve Grassland Birds” is available through ANR Communications on campus at MSU.

That phone number is  517-432-1555, ext 230.