Establishing Food Plots

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 types: grain plots and green-browse plots. The first is designed 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.

For grain food plots, 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.

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.

Stay in Touch with MDC

Stay in Touch with MDC news, newsletters, events, and manage your subscription

Sign up

Our Magazines

Conservationist Magazine

Our monthly publication about conservation in Missouri--free to all residents.

duck on the water

Xplor Magazine for kids

Xplor helps kids find adventure in their own backyard. Free to residents of Missouri.

spider on a leaf