Food Plot Program Provides Supplemental Pheasant Habitat Back »

SDGFP’s Brood Mix is a diverse blend designed to provide flowering pollinator habitat through the growing season to provide valuable foraging opportunities for wildlife. Courtesy: SDGFP

Written collaboratively by Jimmy Doyle and Brian Pauly (South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks).

When considering options for wildlife habitat management, landowners should evaluate their property to identify limiting factors for wildlife. When considering upland birds, a major limiting factor is often nesting cover. If nesting cover is available in sufficient quantities, then improving habitat components for chick survival and overwinter survival can be beneficial for maintaining healthy bird populations. One tool available to managers is a food plot. These are small plots planted to various crops or crop mixtures that are intended to serve as forage for wildlife.

Program Overview

The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks (SDGFP) food plot program was developed nearly 50 years ago to assist landowners in providing winter food sources for wildlife. Landowners can receive free corn or sorghum seed to plant each spring, plus a payment to help offset planting costs. The program took a step forward in 2015, by offering landowners a third seed option, called the brood mix. While traditional corn and sorghum food plots offer excellent food sources during extreme winter months, they lack much value to wildlife during other times of the year. South Dakota’s native wildlife typically don’t starve to death during a normal winter cycle, so traditional grain-based food plots are more of a novelty to wildlife than a necessity. In an effort to increase the value of food plot acres throughout the year, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks worked to develop the brood mix.

After two years of collaboration with partner biologists from Pheasants Forever, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks tested the brood mix concept on a handful of Game Production Areas throughout the state in 2014. The trial plantings were monitored throughout the growing season, and observations were made to determine which plant species performed ideally and which did not. Using those observations, a final seed mix was developed for the inaugural planting season in 2015, when the brood mix was first offered to the public as part of the food plot program. The concept of growing habitat types that benefit wildlife for more than just the winter months was easily understood by landowners. Those looking for a way to enhance pheasant populations on their properties were eager to try the new mix, and in just its first 3 years since being unveiled nearly 50% of all landowners enrolled in the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks’ food plot program have tried the brood mix already!

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s in the brood mix?

The brood mix is an annual mixture of cover crop species (i.e. canola, flax, millet, radish, sunflower), designed to flower from spring through fall and produce seed for wildlife to forage on during winter. By flowering, the brood mix provides pollinator habitat that traditional corn and sorghum food plots lack. Pollinating insects (i.e. bees and butterflies) thrive in areas with flowering plants. Insects comprise nearly 100% of a pheasant chick’s diet, therefore making habitats with high insect numbers for pheasant chicks to forage a key component of pheasant production.

Simply put, more pollinating plants = more bugs = more food for young pheasants = more roosters in the fall! First and foremost, healthy pheasant populations begin with large blocks of idle grasslands for hens to nest in successfully during spring. After hatching, pheasant chicks rely on quality pollinator plants to provide both insects for food, as well as cover to hide from predators. The brood mix offers landowners a way to provide young pheasants the habitat they need to survive between hatching on the grasslands in the spring to fledging in the fall.

How should the brood mix be planted?

The brood mix can be planted anytime in spring after the danger of frost has passed, and it can be drill seeded or broadcasted and drug in. Typically, the month of May has been an ideal time to plant the brood mix in previous years, but that may vary depending on which part of the state a property is located in and what weather trends are doing in a particular year. Before planting, it is important the site is prepared properly. The brood mix cannot be sprayed with any chemicals once it starts growing, so it is recommended to plant this mix in an area that does not have a current weed problem. If planted in the right area, at the right time, the plants will outcompete weeds naturally, thus negating the need to spray with chemicals at all. A long-term management plan by alternating food plots between corn/sorghum and the brood mix year-after-year will help to achieve clean, weed-free pollinator habitat annually, year-in and year-out.

How can someone enroll in the SDGFP food plot program?

SD GFP private lands biologists work with landowners to enroll in the food plot program. Funding for these projects comes from sales of hunting licenses, and landowners must agree to allow free and reasonable hunting access. Landowners still retain and may regulate all hunting access privileges on enrolled lands; however they cannot charge anyone a fee in exchange for hunting access. To learn more about the food plot program, or other wildlife habitat improvements, contact SD Game, Fish & Parks or SDSU Extension.

Other Opportunities

For landowners, managers, hunters, or anyone interested in wildlife habitat management, the upcoming Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic in Sioux Falls is a great opportunity to learn more. This popular event includes a trade show as well as numerous seminars covering habitat management, bird dog training, wild game cooking, and more. A workshop on the intersection of precision agriculture, wildlife habitat, and profitability will be of particular interest to farmers and landowners. Pheasant Fest runs from February 16-18 2018 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. For tickets, exhibitor information, and seminar schedules, visit the Pheasant Fest website.

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