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Wildlife Habitat

Food Plots

Home | Key to Life | Wildlife Cover | Solutions | Planting |

There are 4 areas of consideration when dealing with solutions: acreages, Farm Ponds, Shelter Belts and Yards.

Food, water and cover used to reproduce, escape enemies and survive adverse weather-are the essential components of the habitat of all wildlife species.

Natural plant communities such as those of a marsh or hardwood forest provide some food for wildlife species. However, many species of wildlife are associated with and dependent upon the less natural environments of cultivated crops. The ring-necked pheasant or bobwhite quail may come to mind. However, many other species such as furbearers, the prairie grouses, waterfowl, deer, wild turkey and various songbirds which are identified with a major habitat type such as water courses, grasslands or woodlands may utilize cultivated crops for food.

The provision of food and other benefits in cultivated crops may also be indirect. For example, the attendant weed growth, insects and attracted rodents become food for a variety of wildlife.


To be suitable for wildlife, food must be nourishing, readily eaten, near cover, and available when needed. Many of the cultivated agricultural crops grown in Nebraska such as corn, sorghum, wheat, oats, soybeans, sunflowers, alfalfa and cultivated fruits are highly preferred and nutritious. However, modern farming practices can critically dlrninish their value as wildlife food. A 160-acre field of solid wheat may not have many attendant weeds or insects, or be integrated with other needed cover. A milo field bordered by grass and woody draws may look good in July but with highly efficient harvesting equipment, or post-harvest grazing or plowing may provide no food for quail in December.

Man can team up with nature, however, and plant cultivated crops, or leave portions of agricultural crops unharvested specifically for wildlife.

Cultivated Planting

Winter, especially late winter, is usually the critical period of food supply for most wildlife. For winter food sources, we look to the long-growing, late producing type grain plants with sturdy stalks, such as corn or milo, which are utilized by a wide variety of wildlife. Unfortunately, there is no single plant which can provide a constant wildlife food supply. Nutritional needs of different species, preference and food availability change seasonally. It is desirable to provide a variety of plant foods which provide vegetative material, fruits, or mature seeds at varying times of the year. Ideal food sources would be unharvested plots or strips including small grains, millets, sunflowers, forages, and late producing grains that are seasonally available to a wide variety of animals.

It is best if all components of wildlife's needs - food, water and cover - are interspersed in close proximity. For locating food sources, seek out open spots in or along woodlands, thickets or other permanent cover. Several scattered plantings or unharvested farm plots will be more valuable to less mobile species such as quail than one large plot. The size of plots devoted to wildlife will vary according to the total area available. Plots should be at least Y4-1 acre in size and unharvested strips of row crops should be 12-18 feet wide as a minimum to decrease the concentration of predators.

Selected Wildlife Foods

Some foods which can be grown for wildlife and planting procedures include:

  • Corn: Well-known annual agricultural crop; common varieties are adequate and popcorn is an excellent choice because of its small seed; several special varieties available from wildlife nurseries with special characteristics - low ear height, multiple small ears; corn utilized by wide variety of wildlife including deer, squirrels, upland birds and furbearers during early and late growth stages. Plant with conventional row crop equipment, in well-prepared soil, late April to mid-May, approximately 7.5 lbs./acre.
  • Milo: Well-known annual belonging to the sorghum family, good drought resistance and stands fairly well in snow; 24 ft. tall; seed heads mature approximately 100 days depending on variety; "yellow" seedhead varieties more palatable; utilized by wide variety of birds; deer and beaver may use in certain instances. Plant with conventional row planter, 10 Ibs./ acre or broadcast at 15-20 Ibs./acre and harrow.
  • Sunflowers: The "oil" variety sunflowers grown commercially make excellent feed for mourning doves, upland and song birds; annual, grown 4-6 ft. tall on a variety of soils, drought tolerant; a relatively early maturing plant, utilized in fall. PLANT - prepare seedbed, row plant with conventional corn planter (special plates available) or broadcast at a rate of 5-10 Ibs./acre in May, and harrow.
  • Millet: German or prosso varieties are 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall, annuals grown agriculturally for forage; the heading seeds are also seen frequently in caged-bird feed; excellent for mourning doves, all upland birds, songbirds and waterfowl. Plant - enjoys more than average moisture; prepare soil by discing; broadcast 10-20 Ibs./acre and harrow lightly, or drill 8-10 lbs./acre - in May; matures 70-90 days. Japanese variety requires high moisture -damp lowlands, mud flats, along water courses, river bottoms subject to overflow, dry pond banks which flood in fall; seed heads are eaten by upland birds but especially attractive to waterfowl - can be flooded after seed head starts development 60-90 days post planting. Plant: break soil if dry and cover seed lightly, or broadcast directly onto wet soil or mud banks at a rate of 12 lbs./acre.
  • Jerusalem Artichoke: A tall perennial which looks like a sunflower (sometimes called tuberous sunflower); potato-like tubers are scratched out and eaten by turkeys; deer will actively seek out and browse foliage; tubers were favorite vegetable of Midwest Indians and can still be enjoyed today. Plant - prefers slightly moist soil, plant tubers in spring like potatoes.

Maintaining Food Plots

If specific wildlife foods are drilled or planted in rows, maintaining clean cultivation is not desirable-the associated annual weeds, such as ragweeds, pigweed, and hemp, provide valuable food and cover. One cultivation may be needed to insore a crop stand.

Combination plantings such as broadcasting millet, milo and sunflowers to provide a variety of foods of varying maturity length are desirable. If seed production is good, some discing the following spring, can result in another stand without replanting.

Further Information

Most of the cultivated wildlife foods referred to are available from your local agricultural seed dealer, or various seed, garden or wildlife game food catalogues. There are a wide range of other wildlife foods which may be of more value to certain species or more applicable to your location.

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