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The Saline Springs Conservation Blog site will no longer be updated due to time constraints and consolidation of work priorities.  If you are an avid follower of this blog site I would encourage you to check out the new MDC website which has several new features that can help you with your natural resource questions.   I also would like to point you towards a blog site administered by the state quail technical committee located at…. http://www.mdc.mo.gov/blogs/more-quail

This blog site will provide landowners with updates on the latest grassland bird and quail management techniques.  Some of the top biologists in the state can help answer all the questions you may have about managing prairie, glades, savannahs and our states grassland birds.

Thank you for following this blog site and feel free to give me a call at 660-258-5732 if you ever have any questions relating to managing private land in Missouri. I would be happy to help!

Brent Vandeloecht

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You might have noticed it has been a while since I last updated the blog;…well as most of you probably know I have taken a lateral

I didn't see any dinosaurs, but I did find this bird on my place last week!

 transfer into another job with MDC.  I am now the private land conservationist Linn and Chariton County as of April 1, 2010.   Although I will miss the great folks I have met and became friends with over the last six years in Howard and Saline County; I am looking forward to dealing with new challenges in my assigned work district.  I am grateful to be working in the county where I live so I can spend less time on the road and more time with my wife and kids.

Don’t worry….rumor has it that my old position will be filled soon; possibly by the middle of May.  So if you will hang in there for another month, it will be possible for to begin enjoying a new  MDC employee who I am sure will be up to the challenge of blogging and putting conservation on the ground in Howard and Saline Counties!

I thought I might share a final thought before I pass the torch on to someone new….I was out with my son last night in an area where I edge feathered and conducted TSI practices on my property to create “ideal winter cover for quail and “lots of cabbage for deer”.  Cabbage is the term I use for native vegetation that looks so good for deer you just want to roll around in it!  Anyhow, it occurred to me as we mushroom hunted, that I haven’t hardly ever found a mushroom in the “secret spot” since I conducted the TSI!  As most of you know, I am an avid eater so I was very distraught for a while….then my son said

This is the dinosaur my son thinks is living on our farm...Let me know if you see him!

 something to me I will never forget.

He said, “Dad, are their Dinosaurs in here?  Becasue there is so many plants growing in these woods, that I think a dinosaur could hide from us in here!”  After assuring him that there were no dinosaur’s in our woods, it occurred to me that I do have the privilege of seeing an abundance of mammals, songbirds, insects and plant species on my property because of the habitat work I have completed over the last seven years namely in the name of deer and quail management.  My point is that you have to

Nothing is finer than a mess of mushrooms, turkey breast and crappie in the spring!

always work towards your goals for your property even though there are temporary setbacks such as not finding mushrooms where you used to find them or not seeing an immediate response from your local quail population.  The key is to hang in there, keep focused on the goal and who knows….maybe you will find a bunch of mushrooms over the next hill like we did!

I spend a lot of time working with landowners in Howard and Saline County and most folks want to improve their farm for deer, turkey or quail.  Deer and turkey receive most of the attention from landowners because they are highly sought after game animals that landowners can identify with.  

This buck was frequenting an area where I have completed a TSI project!

They can also cause quite a stir locally when one lucky hunter bags a high scoring buck or a turkey that has several beards.  Quail enthusiasts are  a unique breed as well.  They dedicate several weekends per year to their habitat work, often working long hours on a prescribed burn or cutting trees for an edge feathering project.  Of course, the farm bill has several programs that can provide incentives to improve quail habitat.  I sometimes hear from people, “Why are we funding quail projects and not projects for deer, turkey or rabbits?”

This is a great question and there is a simple answer.  Quail are an indicator species that people can identify with locally.  Everyone knows what a quail looks and sounds like in the spring.  What cooperators often do not know is that good quail habitat also provides improved habitat for numerous other species of songbirds such as eastern meadowlarks, grasshopper sparrows, American goldfinch, field sparrows, Henslow sparrows and etc.  These species are very thankful that the farm bill exists to help improve their habitat as well.

High quality quail habitat also improves turkey and deer habitat. 

Notice the regrowth on the near ridge where TSI was completed as opposed to the far ridge! There is a huge difference in diversity and tonage of food for wildlife!

Turkeys benefit from the same nesting and brood rearing habitat that quail utilize early in life.  Whitetail deer use plums, dogwoods, sumac and other woody cover as winter browse and for security just as quail do during the winter months.  These areas also offer cooler temperatures to quail and newborn fawns during the summer months.  Just last month, I was working on a TSI project on my place and I noticed that deer were consuming twigs off of the treetops that I dropped in the name of woodland management.  These treetops were also enjoyed by the local rabbit population immediately after the trees were felled.  My point is that it does not matter if you are just interested in quail or deer on your property, the bottom line is that installing habitat practices generally improve the habitat on your farm for a host of species.  After edge feathering five years ago, I saw a sharp increase in the “dickey birds” using the edge of my fields.  I have tons more rabbits….anybody have a good set of beagles?  I have also seen a few other critters in the last few years on my farm that I often overlook.  For instance, I got a picture of a badger and a bobcat on my trail camera

Several species can benefit from your habitat work!

 this summer.  Just last week, I saw a couple of flying squirrels while I was conducting TSI….those fellas chose the perfect time to make a run for it….as they just about lost their home to a Stihl chainsaw.  That was the first time I had seen flying squirrels anywhere in three years!

So I will leave you with this thought….If you have been improving the quail habitat on your farm and you are not seeing the results you would like…take a closer look because chances are that you have improved your deer, turkey, rabbit and possibly flying squirrel habitat!  It is these small moments that keep me motivated to improve habitat on my property and I hope it can motivate you as well.

Bobwhite quail require grassland habitat with clump-forming grasses (such as native warm-season grasses, orchardgrass, redtop/timothy mix) interspersed with bare ground and seed-producing plants.  Good grass cover and food must also be located near shrubby cover to hold quail.  Landowners should try to provide shrubby cover and diverse grassland habitat on each 40-acre contractLandowners wanting to go the extra mile for bobwhite quail should provide each requirement on 10 to 15-acre tracts. 

 

Interseeding Legume and Native Wildflowers

Legume and native wildflower interseeding is an acceptable

native legumes make excellent additions to a CRp field after performing MCM

 cost-share practice through the Farm Service Agency if used in conjunction with prescribed burning, strip disking, or chemical applications.  Interseeding provides a food source and increases insect diversity.  Insects are an important food source for bobwhite quail.  Use a minimum of ¼ pound per acre when interseeding native forbs, preferably with a minimum of 5 to 10 species.  Check with NRCS or MDC staff for a list of acceptable species.  Excellent non-native legumes include annual lespedeza, alfalfa, red clover, and ladino clover.  The following legumes may not be used: birdsfoot trefoil, serecia lespedeza, sweet clover, and crown vetch.  Habitat Hint: Interseed native wildflowers in late winter or after a mid-contract management practice to achieve the best results. 

 

Food Plots

Provide a food source and open habitat for quail and other

Food plots should be a supplement to managing your vegetation, not the only practice used on a farm.

wildlife by adding a food plot to your CRP plan.  Food plots cannot make up more than 10 percent of a single field or the total CRP contract acres and should be well distributed across a field with the contour.  A food plot shall be a minimum of ¼ acre in size and no more than 5 acres in size according to CRP rules.  Consider planting a minimum of ¼ acre of food plot for every 40 acres of contract area.  If your primary interest is deer or turkey, make the food plot at least 1 acre in size.  Good choices for food plots include forage sorghum, milo, corn, wheat, millet, soybeans, and sunflowers.   Habitat Hint: A good strategy is to plant grain on one-half of the food plot and let annual weeds grow on the other half.  Rotate these every year if possible and remember it is always best to plant a food plot by shrubby cover for quail.

 

Shrub Plantings “Covey Headquarters”

Adequate shrubby cover is often the limiting factor on a farm as

shrubs such as dogwood, plum, sumac and blackberries are an excellent way to diversify the farm

far as quail are concerned, especially in Saline County where the ground is so productive.  Provide heavy escape and loafing cover for quail.  Consider planting shrub islands or “covey headquarters” (77 shrubs on a 5 x 5 foot spacing) or 2 to 4 row shrub shelterbelts where possible.  Ideally, 20% of each field should be available as good shrubby cover.  Good shrub species include wild plum, gray and roughleaf dogwood, indigo bush, hazelnut, elderberry and blackberry.  If you have existing shrub thickets, spray any grass that is growing underneath the shrubs in spring before the shrubs leaf out or after the leaves drop in the fall with glyphosate.  Habitat Hint Shrub plantings should be scattered throughout the field and located close to food plots and diverse grassland habitat.  As a rule of thumb, shrub plantings should be no more than a softball throw apart.

 

Edge Development/Edge Feathering

Edgefeathering can be used to improve woody vegetation surrounding CRP fields for bobwhite quail.  Edge feathering is a good substitute for planting shrubs around the edge of a field and tends to be more popular than shrub plantings in Saline County.  Mature trees and hedgerows along the edges of CRP fields should be cut down and left lie.  Cut all woody vegetation 30 to 50 feet back from the edge.  This is not a cost sharable practice through CRP; however, cost share is available through other sources such as Quail Unlimited and Quail Forever.  Habitat Hint: Before cutting trees, spray invasive cool-season grasses in the area where trees will be dropped and treat stumps of undesirable species with an approved herbicide.

 

WHERE TO GET SOME HELP

Contact your local USDA Service Center or Missouri Department of Conservation Private Land Conservationist or Wildlife Management Biologist for additional information on cost share and how you can improve your property for grassland wildlife like bobwhite quail.

Need some help with establishing grasses, food plots and shrubs or prescribed burning, disking or spraying?  Visit the Missouri Department of Conservation public website at http://www.mdc.mo.gov/landown or contact your local Private Land Conservationist for a list of habitat contractors who can assist you with these and many other habitat improvement practices.

During the first years after planting, Conservation Reserve Program

Some newer CRP contracts like CP33 and CP38E require 3lbs of wildflowers with a reduced grass seeding rate, theoretically reducing the need for disturbance early into the contract

(CRP) fields usually contain varieties of planted grasses, legumes, foxtail and volunteer grasses and weeds because it takes time to establish the desired plant species.  This variety provides the best quail habitat.  As the grasses thicken, the legumes, weeds, and bare spaces between the plants decrease, as does the attractiveness of the field to quail.  As long as the field has a wide variety of plants, it can provide most bobwhite quail needs, including roosting & nesting cover, food, and brood rearing habitat.  During this stage, quail may not leave the fields except to go to daytime loafing areas or to dense cover during periods of ice or snow. 

 

As grass plantings on CRP acres mature, changes in plant composition

 will occur.  These changes can have a positive or negative effect on bobwhite quail and other wildlife based on how you manage the field.  When the grass begins to crowd out the legumes and weeds (usually 3 to 4 years after establishment), the main benefit to quail is nesting cover.  Once the legumes and patches of bare ground disappear, the field will seldom be used by quail.  Mid-contract management (MCM) techniques can be used to maintain the overall best habitat conditions for wildlife. 

 

As luck would have it, mid contract management is mandatory on certain CRP contracts to improve the habitat conditions for ground nesting birds and other wildlife. These management activities include prescribed burning, strip disking and chemical application.  The following provides information on how to properly conduct mid contract management practices to improve quail habitat.

 

CRP management activities are required on Signup 26 (2003) and subsequent signups.  Management practices will be applied to approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of the contract acreage each year.  See your local FSA office for details on which year your contract requires mid contract management.    

 

Prescribed Burning

Burning during the prescribed dates will remove heavy thatch, set

Late Summer burns are an excellent way to set back warm season grass and eliminate woody sprouts on CRP acres!

back grasses, and encourage wildflowers, legumes, and seed-producing plants.  Prescribed burns should be conducted on a 3-year rotation.  Only 1/3 to 1/2 of the contract acreage, including firebreaks, can be burned annually.  Native warm-season grasses shall be burned anytime between the dates of July 16th and March 15th.  Cool-season grasses shall be burned between the dates of March 15th and April 30thRecent Change:  If your contract is under 20 acres, you can make a request to FSA for a modification to treat all the acres in one year!  

 

Strip Disking

Provides essential brood rearing habitat and promotes annual seed-producing plants.  Rotate disked strips (maximum 75 feet wide) with undisked strips (two times the disked width) across the field with the contour.  Disk 2 to 4 inches deep.  A maximum of 1/2 of each CRP field will be disked annually.  Disking is allowed between July 16th and March 31st.  Recent Change:  If your contract is under 20 acres, you can make a request to FSA for a modification to treat all the acres in one year!  

 

Chemical Application

Selective herbicide application can retard growth of one grass to allow growth of other species to diversify stand. Herbicides can be applied in strips totaling no more than 1/3 to ½ of each CRP field in any one year.  Use rates, consistent with the label for the product being applied, which will temporarily retard vegetation without a complete kill.  Apply herbicides when grasses are actively growing.  Warm-season grasses shall be sprayed between July 16th and September 15th and cool-season grasses may be sprayed between March 15th and April 30th or October 1st and December 1st.   Recent Change:  If your contract is under 20 acres, you can make a request to FSA for a modification to treat all the acres in one year!  

Folks always ask, “What about mowing?”  Mowing is only allowed as a component in conjunction with prescribed burning, strip disking and chemical application on newer CRP contracts.  A recent change to the exhibit 17 will allow FSA to pay cost share if mowing before disking or chemical suppression.  In fact, mowing is only allowed immediately prior to the application of the management practice, and is limited to the contract acres on which the management will be applied.  Mowing is not an acceptable stand alone management practice on CRP and actually hurts most species of wildlife!

It should be noted that with the recent changes to mid contract management rules, that you can now receive cost share for double treating some CRP acreage.  An example would be that you can now conduct a prescribed burn, then treat the same acres with a disk….and receive cost share for both treatments.  These double treatments are an excellent way to get the desired vegetation response for a person interested in managing for quail.  The third part of this series will focus on enhancing your CRP acres with legumes, shrubby cover and food plots.

 

 Note: this is the first of a three part series on quail management for the private landowner!

Did you know few quail live beyond 14 months and many hens fail to survive long enough to reproduce. With over 80% of the annual population failing to carry over to the next year, an annual quail crop cannot be stock-piled: good production and survival of young must occur annually if high quail numbers are to result each fall. This depends on a combination of favorable weather and favorable habitat.  So what habitat conditions do quail require?

 Brooding Cover – Is made up of annual plants such as ragweed and foxtail

Disking in fall is an excellent way to improve brood rearing habitat!

with little litter at ground level.  Recently disturbed areas typically provide good brooding cover.  At least 40% of the home range should be in brooding cover.

 Roosting Cover – 12- to 36-inch high stand of grasses, legumes and broadleaf plants like ragweed with little ground litter.

 Nesting Cover – Is made up of grasses with the previous year’s litter at least 12 inches tall for nest building and cover.  Nesting cover should also include forbs and legume and be in close proximity to brooding cover.  Nesting cover should make up at least 30% of the home range.  Good nesting cover grasses include native warm-season grasses, orchard grass, and timothy. 

 Winter and Escape Cover – Used daily throughout the year

Blackberry thickets such as this are vital to winter survival of quail!

and after snow/ice flattens the grass, includes brushy fencerows, plum, blackberry and dogwood thickets, forage sorghum and broom corn food plots.  Ideally, 20% of the home range should be made up of shrubby cover.  Shrub thickets or edge feathering should be scattered throughout the field and be no more than 70 feet apart from other areas of shrubby cover.   

 Winter Food – Annual seeds such as pigweed, ragweed, foxtail and lespedeza are good wildlife foods.  Food plots may be helpful in the event of heavy snow or ice.  Milo, corn, soybeans and sunflowers are best for quail.

 In Part 2 of this three part series, we will discuss mid contract management practices to improve CRP and other grasslands for improved quail habitat.

As many of you know, broadcasting legumes into an existing

Use a local cooperative to help you spread legumes with your fertilizer

cattle pasture or hayfield can greatly improve the forage quality in your grazing system next summer.  Research has shown improved performance from livestock when cattle are introduced to a cool season pasture that contains legumes as opposed to a pasture without a legume component.  Legumes can not only improve weight gains, but they can save you money on fertilizer and improve wildlife habitat at the same time.  Legumes such as clovers and lespedezas remove nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria growing on the roots of legumes.  This process enables the captured nitrogen to become available to other plants in your pasture.  If more nitrogen is available to the grass in the field you could have significant savings on the amount of fertilizer you will need next spring.  (Note: it is always best to rely on a proper soil test to determine your pasture’s specific nutrient requirements.)  A good goal to shoot for in your pasture or hay field is 30% legumes and 70% grass.  The more species of legumes you can incorporate the better!  

You do not have to be a cattleman to appreciate the value of legumes either.  Wildlife managers can benefit greatly by incorporating legumes into old fields or CRP acres after burning, disking or chemically suppressing their contract acres.  For instance, if you disked your CRP this October, now would be an excellent time to over seed your  strips with of 5 pounds of Korean lespedeza and ½ pound of ladino clover per acre to add diversity and increase wildlife habitat to your field.   Last year’s food plots are prime examples of areas

Idle food plots are excellent places to establish green browse plots for deer and turkey!

that can become excellent green browse plots next spring if you over seed them to ladino clover (4lbs/ac) right now.  Others may have a different idea, but here isn’t anything I would rather have on my farm to attract deer than good looking clover plot.  The best part is that establishing legumes with an ATV broadcaster, tractor, drill or by hand is one of the cheapest ways to improve your property’s habitat for wildlife.  If you are a CRP landowner, the news is even better!  Cost share could be available from FSA to broadcast or drill legumes after a mid contract management practice has been installed.  The following legumes may not be used on CRP and should not be used when wildlife is your interest:  birds foot trefoil, serecia lespedeza, sweet clover, and crown vetch.

Note: you should always calibrate or check the broadcaster manual for the best settings to use when broadcasting legumes.

The success of over seeding an established pasture with legumes will vary based on your timing of application, current soil fertility, pH and various weather factors. Non native legumes such as clovers, lespedezas and alfalfa should be seeded between now and the end of March.  Broadcasting legumes now enables you to take advantage of Mother Nature, by letting her conduct the seed placement for you.  The natural process of freezing and thawing will set the seed at a depth (1/4 inch deep) where it will thrive once spring arrives.  The freezing and thawing also helps break down the seed coat so germination can occur easily once the

Lots of preparation and care goes into having a food plot like this one

soil gets to the optimum temperature to germinate your legumes.  Consult the agricultural agencies (NRCS, local cooperatives, etc) in your area for the current recommendations on legume varieties, seeding dates and methods… Or you can go the Native Forb and Non-native Legume Interseeding jobsheet on the management planning page on this blog for information on native and non native legume mixes that work well for folks interested in grazing or wildlife management plans.   

Remnant prairies will usually have native legumes present and will not need over-seeding under a good grazing, burning and haying program.  Broadcasting native legumes such as round head lespedeza, rosinweed, ashy sunflower and other natives should be done before the end of February….the ideal time would have been December or January!  A 10 species mix is usually recommended, but you could add as many as 25 species to add diversity to your pasture or old field.  Click here to find a list of high quality native legumes that can improve your property.  Drilling is the preferred method of planting native legumes but broadcasting does work if you will follow a few tips.  It is often necessary when broadcasting native legumes to use a carrier to help make sure the seed gets spread evenly across the field such as kitty litter, sand or pellet lime.  Also, it is best to broadcast these light, fluffy seeds on bare ground that is free of vegetation so they can work themselves into the soil.  An even better idea is to cultipack the area or drag a cedar tree over the planting after broadcasting to ensure the native legume seed has made contact with the soil.  Until next time, happy broadcasting!