There is a saying that goes ” all that is complex is not useful but all that is useful is simple”. Whenever I visit a property to give advice concerning quail management, I try to keep it as simple as possible. The simpler you make things, the more likely it is that people will be willing to follow through with the recommendations.
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Regardless of whether you are managing for wild quail, conducting a pre-season release project, or a mixture of both, more than likely you have included a network of food plots in your list of things to do in preparation for the fall hunting season. If this is the case, then let me share a little food for thought with you concerning the use of Egyptian wheat.
What is Egyptian wheat? Egyptian wheat (sometimes referred to as Shallu) is in the sorghum family. It grows 6 to 12 feet tall and forms 2 to 3 loose seed heads that drop seed on the ground throughout the fall and winter months. The seed is rot resistant and provides a high-energy food for the birds during the cold months. The planting dates range from April to mid-June and it takes about 110 days to reach maturity.
Why do I like to use it?Most of my projects are in the sandy soils of the Southeast coastal plain. In this area the plant has served me well because of its drought tolerance. It takes much less water than corn or other varieties of sorghum to produce a significant seed crop. The plant also performs well in a variety of other soil types and climates.
Another reason I like Egyptian wheat is that the deer tend to leave it alone. There are a lot of things that would be great to plant for quail, but if deer eat up all the seed heads what benefit is that to quail? I have used this plant exclusively for the past eleven years on one project here in Burke County Georgia. Only twice have deer ever damaged any of the food plots. Both times the damage took place in years the acorn crop was extremely sparse. Even then most of the damage did not occur until late winter.
Another attribute is cover. By mid-fall, the stalks “break over” about half-way from the top and form a canopy of overhead cover while at the same time the seed heads remain attached. The seed continues to be “sprinkled” on the ground each time the wind blows. This combination of food and cover makes for good hunting.
Another benefit comes into play during the hunt itself. Often when a covey of quail are flushed in the field they will focus on any available cover that appears on the horizon. If you have your plots scattered throughout the quail field they will help “short stop” the birds before they go out of the field, due to the protruding height of the Egyptian wheat.
How to plant it. Egyptian wheat can be broadcast, drilled, or planted in rows. If you broadcast the seed be sure not to plant it too thick or the stalks will end up crowded and stunted. Twelve to fifteen pounds per acre works well for the broad cast method. If you use a grain drill be sure to plug up two holes on the drill between each hole you leave open. At some time or another I have used all these methods of planting and found that I can obtain the maximum benefit of Egyptian wheat when I plant it in rows. Using this method it takes only about 8 to 10 pounds of seed per acre. Row planting allows me to cultivate the weeds during the early stages of plant growth. Once cultivated the Egyptian wheat growth is so strong that it dominates the stand and shades out the weeds. The other methods, broadcasting or drilling, do not give me this option. The quail seem to prefer the rows as well. I think it’s because they can travel down the rows and find seed that has fallen while at the same time they feel protected.
I have access to a four row planter equipped with fertilizer distributors so let me outline how I plant my plots using this equipment. First, I harrow my plots in early spring. This way I can prepare my seed bed before I have to fight a lot of dense growth. I harrow my plots about 150 feet in length and wide enough to plant 8 rows, allowing 3 feet between the rows. Now is a good time to take your soil test.
For best results, always take a soil test and if necessary, add enough lime to get the soil pH in the range of 5.8 to 6.0. This will allow the plants to utilize your fertilizer much more effectively.
Before planting, I will harrow the plots again to eliminate any weed growth that has occurred. I have a heavy board mounted on the harrows that I can float behind them when I make this second cut. It levels the ground and firms up the seedbed. Next, I set up the planters so that the seed drops about 3 to 6 inches apart. In order to accomplish this I use sorghum seed plates that have 12-cells (or drop holes) on the planting disk and set my sprockets to obtain the maximum spacing possible.
I then set the planting depth to set the seed about 1 inch to 1 inches deep. I fill the fertilizer hoppers with 10-10-10 fertilizer and begin planting. The fertilizer distributors drop the fertilizer in a band right next to the row of seed. I really like this because it means that I am not fertilizing the “weed zone” between the rows, thus more of the fertilizer is going to my crop and not the weeds. My fertilization rate is about 350 to 400 pounds per acre. If all is right, you will plant several plots and still swear that your seed hoppers are still just as full of seed as when you started. Just to make sure, you can pick up the planter and spin the packing wheel (or drive wheel) and watch the seed drop from each drop tube. Remember, if your equipment is set up correctly, that 100 pounds of Egyptian wheat would plant over 100 plots the size I have described.
Weed Control Different tracts of land have different weed problems. Most of the time, cultivation has eliminated my need for chemicals. However, if you have some extreme case you may wish to use agricultural chemicals to help. In “sandy land” nutsedge (or nutgrass) can be a problem. It is the only problem that cultivation seems to have no effect on. Some people have used the chemical known as Permit (by Monsanto) to kill nutgrass with no harmful effects on the Egyptian wheat. It was used as the label suggested it to be used for treating nutgrass in stands of corn.
Other chemicals that will work for various weeds include 2,4-D amine and Aatrex.
The problem here is that no herbicides are labeled for use on wildlife food plots, so much of what we learn is from trial and error testing. Because of this I would just suggest that if you feel that cultivation won’t do the job for you, then get the labels for these chemicals and see which weeds they target. Follow the label instructions.
We have a lot of things to contend with today when we try to perpetuate Mr. Bobwhite but to me it is worth the effort. I hope this discussion has given some of you a glimpse into how you can improve on what you are already doing with your quail food plots. Perhaps it will help you put more seed in the crops of your quail or at least give you a little food for thought.
For more information on this and other habitat topics, see the new DVD, “Managing Quail Fields”. CLICK HERE