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Feeding Cover Management

A variety of choices and good distribution should be the goal when managing the “food court.” Preserving or encouraging important native food producers is the best and cheapest way of providing a diverse selection of foods. Learning to recognize these plants, even investing in a native plant identification guide, are time and money well spent.

How do you encourage native species? DISC! DISC! DISC! A bank of dormant seeds lies at or just beneath the ground’s surface. Soil disturbance by discing will cause these to germinate. Discing, particularly in the fall, frequently encourages ragweed, one of the most important foods taken by quail. Additionally, by discing, seeds with a hard outer surface will be scratched, or scarified, allowing them to sprout. Allow disced native food strips to remain fallow for two or three years and then rejuvenate with another discing.

Fire also induces dormant seeds to germinate. By burning, competition is reduced and seeds suspended in a layer of duff can reach the soil. As with discing, fire also will scarify hard-coated seeds.

Plantings to supplement the winter supply of food have probably been used more frequently and over a longer period than any other habitat enhancement. These plantings have been called food patches, food plots or food strips. The latter best describes the configuration that will provide the greatest benefit to quail. Long, narrow strips make these far more accessible than a configuration that might be described as a patch or plot. Increased edge and excellent travel lanes are added benefits of making food plantings in lengthy strips. Food strips should be 15-20 feet wide and closely parallel vegetation that is suitable for escape.

There is no need to work and plant the same strip annually. Where there is room, prepare and seed a new strip adjoining and parallel to that worked the previous year. Move over to new ground again the third year. In the fourth year, rework the first year’s strip and continue this rotation. Strips left fallow from previous years may, or may not, produce a volunteer crop from the earlier seeding but will grow an array of annual weeds. In either event, seed production and feeding conditions will generally remain good for three years, and with such a rotation, both cultivated and native foods will be available.

If you do not want to simply leave the disked land fallow, plant 8 to 10 lbs. of common ragweed and 1–2 lbs. of partridge pea per acre in February, March of early April.