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Success in hunting on your farm is directly related to how well you provide the basic elements of a wildlife habitat

– food, water, cover, and space to raise young. If you’ve done a good job, chances are you will have a successful hunting season.


ive types of habitat occur on farms – grasslands, wetlands, cropland, woodlands, and the farmstead. A study shows that grasslands support 7 to 11 species and up to 386 birds per acre. Wetlands support 13 nesting bird species and up to 702 birds per acre. Corn and soybean row crops support 2 or 3 bird species and up to 88 birds per acre. Using a few simple techniques for plantings and land management can enhance wildlife habitat on different areas of your property which could dramatically improve your next hunting season. There are a number of costsharing programs available from state and federal sources for conservation practices. Check with your Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, and state department of natural resources for details. These agencies can also provide a list of inexpensive sources for trees and shrubs used to enhance wildlife habitat and improve soil conservation.

Landscaping Your Farm For Wildlife
For more nature habitat information Visit these helpful websites: A Plant's Home A Bird's Home A Homesteader's Home

Grasslands Following are some grassland practices that you can use to enhance wildlife habitat on your property:

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Waterways These water pathways are usually dry and sustain flows of moderate to heavy rains. They need to be wide enough so water won’t divert around them and be protected from soil erosion by permanent grass cover.

Orchardgrass and brome work well and some farmers are having good luck with native warm season grasses such as switchgrass, big bluestem, Indiangrass, and little bluestem. Waterways provide excellent cover throughout the year and especially during nesting. Many a gamebird has been flushed from this natural cover.

Fence Rows These provide excellent cover for birds and small animals. Fence rows which contain continuous grasses, shrubs, and trees are the best. Research shows summer counts of 28.5 birds per mile. For herbaceous fence rows only, 12.7 birds were found per mile and for herbaceous fence rows with scattered trees and shrubs, 16.5 birds per mile were found. Fence rows can produce good cover, food, perching, and nesting, along with serving as safe wildlife travel corridors between areas of the farm. If you want maximum benefits, maintain two or three snags (dead trees) per mile for cavity nesters, plant a few vines or shrubs that produce fruit, add rock and brush piles, keep at least a 10 ft. width, and, if you have no snags, add nesting boxes for bluebirds, tree swallows, wrens, kestrels, and flickers. During the last two decades, the practice of plowing fence to fence has increased, making it difficult for songbirds and gamebirds to find adequate habitat. Wetlands Wetlands are simply areas that become saturated with water for all or part of the growing season.

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Following are some inland wetland practices that will enhance wildlife populations and boost hunting success. Be sure to check your state wetlands regulations before implementing any practices. Buffer Strips and Corridors One of the most important practices is to protect the wetlands from activities on surrounding land such as logging or cropland. Maintain a buffer strip at least 50 ft. wide around the wetlands. Do not mow or cut the vegetation. These strips can serve as filters for reducing erosion and sedimentation, provide visual screening, and provide shade trees to maintain cooler water temperatures. Fence the area to keep livestock outside. These strips also serve as travel lanes and are sources of food and cover for wildlife, especially wetland and upland species. Planting desired wetland vegetation to increase cover and food can be successful, but is often difficult if plants are already established in the target planting site. If you have cavity trees and snags in your buffer strips, keep them, they are needed for nesting.

If you want to make these strips especially attractive to wildlife, encourage herbaceous food plants and mastproducing (nuts) & fruit trees and shrubs. Dogwoods, winterberry, blueberries, viburnums, and elder are good choices. If you can till on adjacent land, seed millet, buckwheat, sorghum, or corn and you will attract songbirds, grouse, turkey, and possibly waterfowl. Hunting near these areas usually produces good results. Marshland If you are lucky enough to have marshland on your property, protect it, as it is one of the most valuable natural assets on your farm. It serves as a nutrient trap that filters out herbicides, fertilizers, and soil that washes into the marshland from adjoining cropland. Usually you will find an abundance of wildlife. A good rule of thumb to follow is for every acre of wetland on your farm, provide two to four acres of undisturbed adjacent grassy nesting cover. If you have no wetlands, you should have five percent of your farm in permanent grassy cover. Ponds Most farmers prize their farm ponds. Usual size ranges from

one-half to five acres, but they can be larger. If you want to host more wildlife, enhance the area around the pond with native grasses, shrubs, and trees. Consider adding one or more nearby food plots or leave several rows of unharvested grain nearest the pond. Also, add a wood duck nesting box. If you are building a new pond, leave an island in the middle. It provides a safer nesting area for ducks and geese. If your livestock will use the pond for watering, run a pipe from a submerged filter to a tank below the dam. Fence the pond to keep the livestock from damaging the banks and muddying the water. Consider seeding the banks with native grasses and wildflowers. What you will be creating is an oasis for many species of wildlife from ducks and geese to gamebirds, deer, songbirds, fish, butterflies, and amphibians.

Cropland If you are practicing good conservation tillage on your cropland to reduce soil erosion, chances are you have beneficial habitat for wildlife, especially quail, pheasants, and songbirds. By maintaining the crop residue, you are furnishing both food

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and cover for some species. The waste grain and weed seeds are food for wildlife during the winter. Crop Rotation Instead of continuous cropping, try rotating your crops. It will increase the health of your plants and add plant diversity. By adding legumes to your cropping program, you’ll add nitrogen to the soil, reduce fertilizer requirements, and provide ideal wildlife nesting cover and food. Also, delay mowing until after the peak of the nesting season – around July 15. Untimely mowing will kill nesting adults and destroy their nests. Strip Cropping Another good conservation practice is contour strip cropping. Here row crops are planted in strips along the natural contour of the slope and next to a grass strip. You’ve got both erosion control and plant diversity. The grass strips serve as travel lanes and nesting/ roosting cover for wildlife. Terraces planted to grass/ legume mixtures also provide food, nesting/roosting cover and travel lanes.

Food Plots One of the most popular and best ways to provide winter food for wildlife is food plots. Farm co-ops have an excellent assortment of grasses and grains that can be used for wildlife food and cover. They include millets, lespedezas, soybeans, grain sorghum, and legumes, plus sunflowers, birdsfoot trefoil, cowpeas, and crown vetch. For maximum bird attraction, try the grain sorghum. The tuber heads grow as long as there is moisture – often until a killing frost. Then, when it ripens, birds will have a feast. Food plots should be sheltered on the north and west by natural features such as wooded creek bottoms, wetlands, or wind-breaks, that will prevent drifting snow from covering the grain.

songbirds, barn owls, and as dens for rabbits, woodchucks, and raccoons. If it is necessary to remove the old buildings, retain the trees and shrubs. You may even want to plant additional native trees and shrubs such as cherry, hawthorn, and highbush berries, where the buildings were. These farmstead sites are also important habitat for squirrels, flickers, robins, brown thrashers, sparrows, catbirds, crows, red-tailed hawks, wood ducks, owls, finches, deer, blue jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, cedar waxwings, and black snakes.

Farmstead Another excellent area for wildlife is around abandoned farmstead sites. The trees, shrubs, grasses, and weeds found there are beneficial to wildlife, especially old, mature trees with cavities and those that produce quantities of nuts, fruits, and seeds. Old buildings are used for nesting by barn swallows,

This article was written by Thomas D. Patrick, President and Founder of the WindStar Wildlife Institute, a national nonprofit conservation organization whose mission is to help individuals and families establish or improve the wildlife habitat on their properties. For more information or for the name of a Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist in your area, please contact: WindStar Wildlife Institute


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