Planting Forages for Wildlife

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Destruction of wildlife habitats has made populations of many animals decline. Whether you are a hunter or just enjoy observing wildlife, you may have an interest in planting forage for them. Generally, the best method to increase wildlife populations is to improve the habitat. First by increasing the amount of cover and second improving the year-round food supply. Many forage crops can help accomplish these purposes, but it is important to understand both plant and wildlife habit and behaviors. This week I will discuss the animal behaviors and next week I will go in-depth on individual plants.

Deer: A whitetail deer buck will range about 640 acres of land and a doe will range about half of that. They like a varied diet consisting of items including twigs, acorns, fruits, weeds, grasses, and legumes. They prefer a high percentage of shrubs and trees in their diet, but will graze large amounts of lush forage when other feed is in short supply. Early summer is the time fawns are normally born. The highest nutritional requirements of does is in early lactation. Rebreeding of does, body weights of deer in the winter, and antler development are affected by nutrition during the summer and fall. It is extremely likely for protein to be deficient at this time. Winter annuals species are planted in a mixture to provide a long grazing period, plus much of their growth occurs during hunting season, attracting deer. Food plots should be 1-5 acres in predominately forested areas. Plots should be long and narrow, as opposed to square, in a sunny area close to woods to provide escape cover. Perennial legumes commonly planted for deer: red clover, white clover, and alfalfa. Warm season annuals commonly planted for deer: soybeans, cowpea, and American jointvetch.

Doves: Although some mourning doves stay in much of the south all year, the dove is basically a migratory bird. Millions fly through the South each fall and spring. Non-migrating doves will fly up to 12 miles to reach a feeding field. Doves can be attracted with food plots, but it may be difficult to hold them in a given area. They tend to abruptly abandon one feeding area for another. A good approach is to plant a small food plot of 2 or more acres in early spring to feed local doves during summer, then make a larger planting in mid-to late spring to attract migratory doves. Doves are poor scratchers and will not dig up buried seed. They prefer their food lying out in the open on relatively bare ground. Commonly planted species for dove: browntop millet, proso millet, and sunflower.

Ducks: With the exception of some wood ducks that remain in the South throughout the year, ducks are migratory birds. Food plots are commonly used to attract migrating ducks. Good plants for ducks in flooding areas are Japanese millet, corn, and grain sorghum. In other areas, browntop millet can be used.

Rabbits: Food supply is critical to maintain high population. Winter is the time when food supplies are of most concern, any type of green winter plant is a good choice for food plots. Food plots should be planted in narrow strips, approximately 10 feet wide, close to a thicket or other area that provides cover. Commonly planted species for rabbits: clovers, small grains, and ryegrass.

Wild Turkey: Turkeys range over a wider area than deer and eat a varied diet consisting of insects, seeds, and green leaves. Commonly planted species for turkey: Chufa, corn, soybean, cowpea, and any type or mixture of winter annuals.

Below are commonly used wildlife plants and their uses.

Alfalfa: This cool season perennial legume produces highly nutritious forage growth during spring, summer, and autumn. It is enjoyed by deer and in an excellent source of insects and green material for quail and turkey.

Annual Lespedeza: Annual lespedeza is an extremely useful species to plant for quail food. Doves are not particularly fond of it, but will eat is if nothing else is available.

Browntop Millet: Browntop millet is an extremely valuable plant for attracting doves, quail, or ducks. Timing of planting is crucial for this plant. If planted too early, all the seed may be gone before dove season begins. Seed mature about 60-70 days after germination. It is best to time planting so that doves have at least two weeks of feeding to become accustomed to the field before a shoot is held.

Buckwheat: This is a warm season annual forb that is widely adapted and easy to establish. It competes well with weeds and is often planted for deer, wild turkey, doves, and waterfowl.

Clovers: Most clovers attract insects and produce seed for birds including quail and turkey.

Cowpea: Also called southern pea, cowpea can provide forage for deer, cover for quail, and seed for many types of birds

Foxtail Millet: Foxtail millet is not frequently planted, but makes good food for birds.

Grain Sorghum: Most modern sorghum hybrids provide high energy food for quail and doves. If sorghum is planted over large acreage, strips should be mowed through food patches in one-month intervals during fall and winter to give birds access to the grain.

Japanese Millet: This can be grown for all game birds and is especially well suited for ducks. It can be grown successfully in well drained soils, but it can also tolerate flooded soil.

Proso Millet: Dove and quail are very attracted to proso millet. It matures in 90 days and has the potential of producing a higher seed yield than browntop millet.

Sericea Lispedeza: Quail will eat sericea lespedeza seed, but cover is the primary value for quail.

Sunflower: Sunflower is highly attractive to dove and other game birds. Sunflowers are pollinated by bees, so a good bee population is necessary to obtain good seed set.

Recommended Seeding Rates & Planting Dates


Seeding rate lb/A2 Planting Dates

Broadcast: 20-25

Drilled: 15-20

Annual lespedeza

Broadcast: 25-35


Browntop millet

Broadcast: 25-30

Drilled: 15-20


Broadcast: 30-45


Foxtail millet

Broadcast: 25-30

Drilled: 12-15

Grain sorghum

Broadcast: 15-20

Drilled: 5-8

After Frost
Japanese millet

Broadcast: 25-30

Drilled: 15-20

Proso Millet

Broadcast: 25-30

Drilled: 15-20


Broadcast: 35-40

Drilled: 15-20

Sericea lespedeza

Broadcast: 20-40

Drilled: 15-30


Before planting, it is important to follow recommended planting procedures when establishing a wildlife crop. Otherwise, results are likely to be disappointing. Fertilization and liming should be according to soil test recommendations. If you need assistance in determining what plants will work for you, need assistance soil testing, or need more information on wildlife food plots contact Kinsey Everhart at the Anson County Cooperative Extension Office by phone at (704) 694-2415 or by email at