In the northeastern United States, most populations of grassland songbirds occur on private lands. However, little information exists about the attitudes of farmers toward habitat management for this guild. To address this information gap, we surveyed 131 dairy farmers in Vermont's Champlain Valley to assess current hayfield management practices and farmers' willingness to adopt more "bird-friendly" practices. Our results showed a clear trend toward earlier and more frequent hayfield cuts. Farmers indicated they have little flexibility to alter the timing of their cuts on most of their land. However, many farmers (49%) indicated a willingness to adopt alternative management practices on at least a small portion of their land. Combined with the fact that many farmers characterized parts of their land as "wasteland," or economically unproductive land, this result suggests that some leeway exists for increasing songbird habitat quality on at least portions of dairy farms. Although significant differences existed in the amount of land for which farmers were willing to adopt alternative management based on herd size, acreage, and experience, the directionality of these relationships could not be established except tentatively for herd size, in which case it appeared that farmers with smaller herds were more likely to dedicate a greater percentage of their land to alternative management. The results of this study likely have relevance to dairy farms throughout the northern-tier dairy states. Given the increasing trend for agricultural land to be converted into housing, we recommend that extension and education efforts target farmers with large hayfield acreages, encouraging the maintenance of high-quality habitat for grassland songbirds.
Additional publication details
Attitudes of Vermont dairy farmers regarding adoption of management practices for grassland songbirds