The key to managing a grass field for quail is to have the right mix of nesting, brooding, shrubby cover, and food near each other.
- A good strategy is to divide grass fields larger than 20 acres into smaller management units and disturb about one-third of the entire field each year.
- Areas of shrubby cover should be scattered around the edges and, if possible, throughout the middle of large grass fields.
As grass plantings on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres mature, plant composition changes. Disturbance of habitat can either promote or hinder populations of quail and other wildlife. Use mid-contract management practices to maintain the overall best habitat conditions for quail and other wildlife on CRP fields.
Quail favor young CRP Fields
In the first few years after planting, CRP fields usually produce a variety of grasses, legumes, wildflowers, and annual seed-producing plants. Fields will also show lots of bare space between the plantings. With a wide planting assortment and retention of bare ground cover, these fields will provide most of the bobwhite’s food and cover needs.
Quail will abandon over-mature CRP fields
The key to retain and improve quail numbers is to manage CRP fields according to quail habitat needs.
Following three to four years of growth, maturing grass stands will have thickened and begin to crowd out legumes and annual seed producing plants. At this point, bare-ground cover will have also decreased, and the field will see significantly less use among quail.
Strip-disking and prescribed burns are needed once grass stands have become too mature for quail. These practices curtail grass dominance, retain bare ground cover, and help maintain optimum CRP field conditions.
Good Management Tools for CRP Fields:
While mowing is not considered a stand-alone management activity, it may be used to supplement those above.
Legume and Wildflower Inter-seeding
Inter-seeding provides a good food source for quail and helps to diversify the grass stand. Conduct inter-seeding in conjunction with a management practice.
Inter-seed native forbs at a rate of 1 to 3 pure-live-seed pounds per acre. A wildflower mixture containing 10 or more species is best. Nonnative legumes, such as annual lespedeza, alfalfa, and red clover, are also good choices for inter-seeding.
For the best results, inter-seed grass fields during winter or very early spring and after removing dense standing cover by burning or strip-disking.
While forage cover is secondary to all other cover types, having reserve food supplies available ensures ongoing access for quail and other wildlife when food is most in demand.
Locate food plots for quail near woody cover, such as feathered edges, downed tree structures, or covey headquarters. Always plant food plots on the contour and avoid areas where erosion is a concern.
Good choices for food plots include forage sorghums, milo, millet, corn, soybeans, sunflowers and wheat. Plant grain on one half of the plot and leave the other half idle for a year. The idle half will provide excellent brooding cover and a good source of annual seed producing plants such as ragweed and foxtail. Rotate back and forth every year.
- Food plots cannot make up more than 10 percent of a single field or the total CRP contract acres.
- Food plots should be at least 1/4 acre in size and at least 30 feet wide.
- Food plots on CRP fields cannot be more than 5 acres in size.
- Try to plant 1/4 acre of food plot for every 40 acres of field.
Try to minimize tillage and herbicide use in the food plot to provide better brooding cover and a variety of seed producing plants. Reduce the seeding rate by 1/3 to 1/2 to encourage even more annuals.
Shrub Plantings and Downed-Tree Structures
Plant shrub islands, or “covey headquarters” in grass fields to provide additional escape cover for quail. 167 bare root shrubs on a 3x3 foot spacing will prove ample for quail cover needs.
Desirable shrub species include:
- Wild plum
- Gray and roughleaf dogwood
- Hazelnut, blackberry
- Indigo bush
Drag felled trees into open loose piles called downed tree structures to provide immediate escape cover for quail.
Covey headquarters and downed tree structures should be at least 30 feet wide and cover at least 1,500 square feet.
Whether establishing new thickets and structures or managing those already existing, it is important to check any sod-forming grasses that occur in the understory. Grasses such as bluegrass, tall fescue, and smooth brome compete heavily with young shrubs and choke out other, more desirable plants. Use herbicides as necessary to check these pesky grasses.
Use edge feathering to improve woody cover along the outside edges of grass fields and along woody draws. Edge feathering is a good substitute for planting shrubs around the edges of grass fields.
Mature trees and hedgerows along the edges of fields should be cut down and left along the edge of the field.
- Cut all woody vegetation greater than 12 feet tall and all trees at least 30 to 50 feet back from the original tree line.
Make sure to treat the stumps to prolong the value of edge feathering. Before cutting trees, make sure to spray cool-season grasses with a herbicide in the areas where the trees will be dropped.
Don't Hesitate to Ask for Help
Land management practices on contracted property must be included in the CRP contract.
Certain practices may require you to visit your local USDA Service Center to amend your CRP contract.
Changes to the original contract also requires contract modification and approval from the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resource Conservation Service.