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Ask the Quail Guy - Larry from Michigan

Jul 17, 2009

The other day I received an e-mail from Larry in Michigan. I replied to Larry, and he agreed that I could copy his e-mail and try his questions to the best of my abilities. I've never been to Michigan, but I hear it's nice.

Here's Larry's e-mail.

I have an 80-acre farm that hasn't been farmed in close to 40 years. Think old fields and woodlots, about 50-50. Twenty years ago, I planted several autumn olive and roselow crab borders. The autumn olive is set back every so often, and the escaped plants are kept mowed and sprayed. I've just started working on TSI projects a couple years ago.

image of plowed field

I have five or six food plots planted. Some are corn and cowpeas, some grain sorghum, and some just native weeds, like ragweed. I planted my fire lines to cowpeas, which I'm sure the deer will get, but maybe it will keep them out of my plots. The powerline bisects our property from north to south. I lease the section on our property. I've carried out some light disking and am pleased to see blackberry canes expanding.

image of powerlines and plowed field

I would really like to do some burns to eliminate some of the dead grass and weeds, but I only have one field where that's feasible or safe without professional help. Most of the other grass areas are narrow or have pole-size trees growing. Disking or spraying may be the best option. I plan to build some kind of a three-point thatch rake this winter.

image of brushy cover

Most of the grasses are cool season: timothy, orchard grass and quack grass. I get a few clumps of red top and a small stand of broomsedge later in the summer. I do get some clover in the disked areas and have lots of golden rod. Panic grass is scattered. Vetch is fairly prominent is several areas. Bergamot blooms profusely and a few butterfly milkweed seem to be expanding.

image of field

I have lots of brushy cover: blackberry patches, dogwood thickets, young basswood stands, maple sprouts, sumac and oak saplings. One patch holds hazelnut, dogwood, oak and black raspberry canes. Walking around I see lots of smaller oaks that could be edge feathered. This past spring I cut three or four aspen copses that are already starting to sprout. Most need some grass treatment, but most of the grass is cool-season clumps. Dead vegetation from last season is a more pressing problem.

image of transition zone

I planted some American plum last spring to see how it would grow. It's taken off very nicely. The orange flags are where I planted shrubs. I'll be planting more next spring. I found a couple of patches growing on abandoned land in town. Is it possible to dig up the smaller stems and transplant it? When would be the best time? Same with dogwood.

image of meadow

I have a nice transition zone along the woods, but have several pole-size and smaller walnuts growing in it. Once they are removed, I'll be able to disk. The edge contains berry canes, gooseberry, grape, pokeweed and other plants. Along the two-track, a few desmodium grow. It's ironic. My brother-in-law next door has several patches plus some roundhead or hairy lespedeza. I have none on the other side of the fence; our properties adjoin. He probably doesn't even know it's there. Can I transplant desmodium? When is the best time?

image of meadow

If I cut sumac, will it re-sprout? Mine is too big for rabbits or cover. Birds do eat the berries. Black locust--good or bad for quail? Can you recommend a herbicide for dewberry? I have a lot of it. It filled in both ends of one of my food plots. Fortunately, there's some ragweed in the open spaces.

image of open area and powerlines

One day, when it works, I'm coming to one of Missouri's workshops. Michigan doesn't even have a private land specialist and rarely holds any kind of workshops.

image of open area

More Quail Guy's Reply:

It sounds like a nice property. It's pretty common to get a lot of questions from a landowner after they complete a management practice. I haven't seen two properties that looked the same or got the exact same vegetation response. As a landowner you need to adapt your management to what Mother Nature gives you. You're doing a good job. Here are a few recommendations based on what you have told me.

Small, narrow old fields

Small, narrow fields can be difficult to burn, especially under powerlines. I wouldn't try to burn under these large powerlines. You might want to use strip-disking to set back the vegetation. Take a look at your other fields. You might be able to divide the field into several small blocks which then can be burned safely. Alternate with burned and unburned blocks to maximize edge. Wait until the evening to burn when the humidity is higher. You'll find it easier to burn at this time of the day. I also noticed in the pictures that you have a nice road system through the farm. Use the roads for your fire lines. No need to disk in firelines if you have a nice road system.

Cool-season grasses and old fields

Managing cool-season grasses requires constant disturbance. I recommend disturbing a third to half of the field each year. You might consider spraying fields that have a mix of broomsedge and cool-season grasses with glyphosate after a hard freeze. The glyphosate will not hurt the broomsedge or most other native plants since they are already dormant. Eradicating the cool-season grass will provide more bare ground and promote desirable forbs and legumes. I do not recommend digging up the desmodium. If you have some, you likely have more elsewhere. Eradicating the cool-season grasses and prescribed burning should promote more desmodium. I wouldn't worry about transplanting desmodium.

To transplant or not to transplant

I have transplanted blackberry runners with mixed results, but not wild plum or dogwood. Why not let the runners grow into a larger covey headquarter? If you want a plum or dogwood thicket somewhere else, consider cutting and dragging several trees into a loose pile where you want the shrubs. You will need to make piles larger than the ones in the picture above. Try for a 30-by-50-foot pile. Then scatter some ripe wild plum and dogwood fruits over the top of the pile. It will take several years for the shrubs to mature, but they will eventually take over the pile.

What's up with sumac?

Sumac provides some summer loafing cover for quail. During the winter sumac thickets are often too thin to provide much cover. Cutting sumac will only temporarily set back the plant. If you cut it, treat the stump with a herbicide. Burning only seems to encourage more growth. Its a good shrub to have around, but it can get rather aggressive in old fields. Strip-disking and burning will help keep it in check.

Too much dewberry and black locust

Most brush control herbicides should control dewberry, but the herbicide will also kill your food plot if you plant soybeans, cowpeas or clovers. You could try glyphosate-resistant soybeans. Glyphosate will suppress dewberry but not for very long. Instead of working on the dewberry I'd focus my efforts on the autumn olive. I would eradicate as much of the autumn olive as possible. Nasty stuff.

I do not recommend planting black locust for quail. However, black locust makes fine edge feathering and material for downed tree structures. Make sure you treat the cut stumps. Otherwise you will have a million runners (you'll probably have some anyway). I'm a big fan of dewberry since it provides good nesting cover for quail. In the edge feathering picture it looks like you cut a very small area. Consider enlarging these areas by cutting down the trees in the background. Yep, even the walnuts. They will eventually grow into trees and provide no habitat for quail. You'll have to decide if you want quail/rabbit habitat or walnuts.

Other comments on habitat.

The landscape shot of your farm and the brushpiles is rather telling. The brushpiles are too small to provide good quail habitat. Research in Missouri found quail preferred covey headquarters or brushpiles that were around 1,200 square feet. We generally recommend 1,500 square feet (30'x50'). In the landscape picture of your farm I don't see a lot of low-growing woody cover. The small trees can be cut down and the stumps treated to provide suitable shrubby cover. Even in the picture with the brushpile, cut down the trees behind the pile. Consider edge feathering next to your food plots. You have very little shrubby cover next to your food plots. Do one side one year and the other side a few years later.

Your food plots are very clean. Consider idling half of the plot and plant the other half. The weeds that grow back are excellent cover for quail and other wildlife. Overall, it looks like you have a good start. You just need to fine-tune your management.

So, let's hear some of your stories. Send your questions and a couple pictures to I have a feeling some of the other quail fanatics out there have the same questions.

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