Williams farm, and in the spring of 2005, Williams was busy planting the edges of the field to a mix of native grasses, little bluestem and sideoats grama, and wildflowers. Small blocks of trees were cut along the field edges to create brushy cover, a practice known as edge feathering. Nineteen acres of cropland were retired to these quail buffers, including some areas along the creek that probably never should have been farmed, and 5 acres of the hillside pasture were treated similarly, using MDC cost-share because they didn’t qualify for CP33.
The first summer after planting seemed disappointing. A serious drought hindered the germination of the native grasses. Weeds grew prolifically, but precious little native grass could be found. Williams was concerned that the planting had been a failure. Then he noticed that the covey of quail responded anyway. They could now be found regularly on the Williams farm scurrying around in those weeds.
MDC staff urged him to be patient, the planting would take hold in time. Most of us are used to planting crops, lawn grasses or gardens, and we see what we plant in a relatively short time. Native grasses and wildflowers can take 2-3 years to become established, especially if conditions are rough.
By the end of the second summer, the native grasses were common but still scattered and spaced among the weeds. However, more of those “weeds” could now be identified as the wildflowers included in the planting. More important, the quail were increasing! At least two coveys were found regularly. The planting progressed, and the response of the quail encouraged Williams to do some more edge feathering.
Currently, four coveys of quail are thriving at the Williams farm. The native grass has thickened to the point that it is now ready for management activities to maintain the open structure that quail like best. For Williams, that will be burning one-third of the buffer each year, but disking is another option.
Quail hunting has returned, and the farm is a favorite destination during the hunting season for family and friends. Williams reports that the coveys can always be found in or near one of the brushy areas, so he plans to install more in the future. “Sometimes we just let the quail fly, we’re so glad to see them again,” he says.
As a huge bonus, rabbits run from every one of the brush piles, and rabbit hunting actually exceeds