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Wildlife Food Plots

How to set-up your food plot for this year's hunting season.

Nashville, Ark. – Hunting season is quickly approaching. Whether you use food plots for hunting or just to view wildlife, it is time to start thinking about planting one if you are going to.

The key to growing a successful food plot is the soil. Before planting anything you should take a soil test to see what you need to apply to the soil. Fertilizer and lime are worth every cent invested. Food plot demonstrations conducted in the past have shown that wildlife will consume more vegetation grown in food plots that have been limed and fertilized than plots that have received no soil amendments. Even if the seed planted does not germinate, the wildlife will still be attracted to the plot.

A common question may be: When are food plots most beneficial to wildlife? Normally the critical nutrient times for nonmigratory wildlife species are late summer and late winter to early spring.  In late summer, bucks are still growing antlers and building up fat in preparation for the rut. Does are either still lactating or weaning fawns, and the fawns are shifting to solid food. Does will need a good food source to rebuild their body for the winter months. The late winter/early spring months are a critical time because food is scarce and fat reserves are depleted.

Food plots can be located along the edges of fields, ditch banks, fire lanes, abandoned fields, forest openings or marginally productive agricultural land. An irregular-shaped food plot is preferred because it provides cover from predators. Food plots should be large enough that they aren’t grazed down too early and small enough that wildlife can flee to cover. Larger food plots need “islands” of cover within them. Optimal food plots should be from 1 to 3 acres.

Before planting you should follow recommendations from your soil test. Apply any fertilizer or lime at the recommended rate. Once the soil is ready, you should prepare the soil for contact with the seed. Many plantings can be done in an area where the soil has been disked a month or more before planting, but this can also be done the same day as planting. Seeds need to be planted at the appropriate depth. Small legumes and ryegrass seeds should be planted no deeper than ½ inch, and larger seeds such as oats, wheat, beans or peas can be planted 1 to 1 ½ inches deep. Most seeds are broadcast with a seeder mounted onto a tractor, ATV or truck bumper. Rolling or dragging the plot after planting will ensure that the seeds have good soil-to-seed contact and may protect them from being eaten.

Keeping records of food plots is often something that is overlooked by landowners. These records may include location and identity of food plot, types of native plants, variety of cultivated plants, seedbed preparation technique or native plant enhancement method, planting dates, seeding rate, information from soil tests, type and rate of fertilization and liming, planting method, maintenance and management of planting, rainfall and temperature during planting and growing season, use by wildlife, cost of establishment and maintenance, wildlife harvest in the vicinity of the food plot and evaluation of the food plot’s success. To discover how much your food plot is being used, install an enclosure after planting the seed. This cage will protect the plants from being eaten by wildlife. The height and density of the plants inside the cage can be easily compared to the size of the plants surrounding it. Wildlife cameras can be used to visually measure the utilization of the food plot by wildlife.

For more information, you can contact the Howard County Extension office at 870-845-7517 or you can explore our factsheets. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

By Dawson Bailey
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Dawson Bailey
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517


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