Building a Bobwhite Factory
also broke up large fields with plantings of gray and silky dogwood, wild plum, blackberry, fragrant sumac, shrub lespedeza and other woody plants. This created miles of high-energy food sources along the edges of quality quail cover. It also helped confine high-impact farming practices to the least erodible areas.
“We planted more than 25,000 trees and shrubs using the pull-behind planter that the Conservation Department loans out to landowners,” says Churan. “We got pretty good at it. If there was a contest to see who could plant the most trees with that piece of equipment, I think we could win it.”
One early innovation at The Cedars was surrounding crop fields with strips of grass at least 50 feet wide. Besides creating cover for quail near food sources, this practice prevents erosion from cropped areas.
“This was the precursor of Conservation Practice 33 under the Conservation Reserve Program,” says Churan. “Some of our other practices, such as lightly disking pastures, anticipated the mid-contract grassland management provisions that eventually became part of CRP.”
Churan has taken a strong interest in developing grassland management strategies that benefit quail. Most of the land at The Cedars that once was fescue pasture now features a mix of warm-season grasses, such as bluestems and Indian grass, plus clover and other legumes. He has his warm-season grass fields on a three-year burn rotation to keep the stands open enough for quail to use, and he lightly disks half of the fields that he burns each year.
“We learned that there is grass, and there is grass,” says Churan. “Quail thrive where there is a diverse mix of habitat types. Our burning and disking arrangement creates six different stages of grass succession. We saw a big jump in quail numbers when we implemented our burn plan.”
Although he believes in the benefit of intensively managed native, warm-season grasses, Churan also recognizes that fescue, an imported, cool-season grass, plays an important role on many farms. So he kept two patches of fescue on his own land where he could experiment with making it more quail-friendly.
“Fescue actually provides excellent foraging for insects—a high-protein food that quail chicks need—when it is mixed with other plants,” he says. “Light disking on our fescue fields has produced a surprisingly good growth of native weeds, such as ragweed, whose seeds are a favorite quail food.”
In the other fescue field, Churan planted shrub lespedeza and blackberries. The thorny vines have