Establishing Food Plots

Food plot surrounded by forest along plot perimeter

Before we get into the details of creating food plots, remember, food is seldom the limiting habitat component for wildlife in Missouri. In particular, food plots should not be placed in natural communities such as glades, savannas, or prairies. However, using food plots can provide important food and cover plants — both planted and natural — in a particular area, resulting in an increased abundance and diversity of foods available to a wide range of local wildlife species.

Food plots come in two main varieties: grain plots and green-browse plots. The first is made to provide seed, brooding, and bare-ground habitat. The second yields succulent vegetation for wildlife forage. In some instances, the two can be combined. Create food plots by leaving unharvested grain strips along edges of crop fields.

Grain Food Plots

You will want to plant early enough for the crop to produce mature seed. Planting grain mixtures rather than monoculture crops will enhance benefits to a wider range of wildlife species. In general, grain plots or unharvested grain crop strips should be a minimum of ¼ acres in size, at least 30 feet wide, and preferably located next to or within 70 feet of good woody escape cover and diverse herbaceous cover. Create long, linear plots or strips to divide large fields, or make block plantings where strips are not desired. To limit soil loss, planting on the contour is recommended.

When possible, use no-till planting methods. The residue left by practicing no-till planting methods will harbor insects beneficial to wildlife. Food plots should be adequately fertilized and protected from livestock grazing. In most cases weed control should be limited, as the natural foods provided by annual weedy plants are important to many wildlife species. Plots adjacent to woodland edges may need to be wider than 30 feet to receive enough sun and rain to be productive.

In general, one plot per 40 acres is a minimum. Because wildlife often exhaust seeds produced on small plots by early winter, consider increasing the plot size to 1–2 acres No-till soybeans alongside fallow area 73 to provide longer-term benefits where possible. In general, you won't need plots larger than 4 acres. To maximize food diversity, establish a rotation where you leave half of the grain plots fallow each year. This allows native food plants (annual broadleaves and grasses) to establish. Replant this fallow area the next year and leave the other half of the grain plot fallow. Including a legume, such as alfalfa or annual lespedeza, in the rotation every 3–5 years will help to build and maintain soil fertility.

Green-Browse Plots

Make green-browse plots a minimum of ¼ acre located next to quality wildlife cover. For deer and turkey, green-browse plots should be spaced about ¼ mile apart or one per 40-acre area. To be effective for rabbits, however, these plots should be about ¼ or ½ acre in size and about 100 yards apart. Green-browse mixes also can be planted on field roads, trails, and firebreaks.

The food plot site should be open and accessible for establishment and future maintenance. The use of correct amounts of nutrients and maintaining desirable pH levels is important to ensure quality. Properly timed mowing can help promote actively growing vegetation, especially for perennial plantings, and increase its attractiveness to wildlife. Mowing between July 16 and September 30 is desired. Plots can also be mowed from March 15 to May 1. It is recommended that only one-half of the plot be mowed annually, and that mowed strips are rotated, to increase plant diversity.

Field Measurements for Quarter-Acre Wildlife Plots
Number of Feet Number of Steps (2.5 feet/step) Number of Yards
 105 × 105  42 × 42  35 × 35
 75 × 150  30 × 60  25 × 50
 65 × 170  26 × 68  22 × 57
 50 × 220  20 × 88  17 × 73
 40 × 275  16 × 110  13 × 92
 30 × 365  12 × 146  10 × 122
 20 × 550  8 × 220  7 × 183

 

Food Plot Plantings Beneficial to Wildlife
Species Broadcast Seeding Rate* (Pounds/Acre) Time of Year to Snow
 Alfalfa  10  Spring, early fall
 Barley  48  Sept. 1 - Oct. 10
 Buckwheat  48  Late spring
 Canola  7  Spring, late summer
 Cereal rye  90  September - October
 Clover, alsike  4.8  Winter to April
 Clover, berseem  16  Spring, fall
 Clover, crimson  18  Spring, late summer
 Clover, ladino  4.5  Spring, fall
 Clover, red  9  Winter to early April
 Corn (rows)  15  Spring
 Kale  4  Spring, late summer
 Lespedeza, annual  11  Mid-winter to early spring
 Millet, German  20  April - June
 Millet, Japanese  20  April - June
 Millet, pearl  20  April - June
 Oats  50  February - early spring; September   - October
 Radish  7  Spring, mid-July
 Sorghum, forage  16  May to June 20
 Sorghum, grain (milo)  16  June - July 1
 Soybeans  45  April - June
 Sunflowers  8  April - June
 Turnips  4  Spring, mid-July
 Wheat  90  September - early November
 Winter pea  60  Late summer

*Rates can be reduced 50 percent for planting or drilling, except for soybeans, which could be reduced to 34-40 pounds/acre.

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