How Cover Crops Double as a Good Farming and Wildlife Practice.

Cover crops are a newer method of farming that prolongs the health and productivity of soil with strategic planting. For farmers this sounds like a great idea when it’s available for implementation, but today we are exploring another demographic that thoroughly enjoy cover crops. Any guesses? How about wildlife. From deer enjoying the variety of eating options that are rich in essential nutrients to smaller rodents utilizing the additional cover, these farming method may have more of a wildlife impact than most would consider.

Where and When Should I Plant a Cover Crop?

Whether you are planting in a field or in your food plot there is a certain planting time for your cover crop. They can be planted following your harvest of your cash crops like corn or soybeans. Before September 15 will provide the best results for these crops. The earlier you choose the cover crops for your area the better, it gives you more time for research as well as insures you get the right variety. It is essential that you take time to learn about the cover crops you are using, if you manage your cover crops poorly you most likely will end up with a poor result.

Why to Consider Planting Cover Crops from a farming perspective?

As mentioned before cover crops help to contain weeds, build up your soils and reduce erosion. But they are also used in a different facet like wildlife conservation. Brassicas and tuber plants can also help with breaking hardpan. A hardpan is a layer of compaction that is hard for roots to grow through, but these cover crops can assist in breaking the hardpan apart. This will make it easier from future plant to grow. Cover crops are often a key role for organic farmers to keep their soil stable, within the strict organic guidelines.

Courtesy of Jacob Hofer

Examples of Cover Crops.

Depending on the soil type and directed mission, there can be many options for cover crops that also double as a wildlife drawing sanctuary. For instance; rye, wheat, barley and oats are commonly used according to Sare Org. All of those grass cover crops are high carbohydrates giving nutrients and energy for animals preparing for winter.  

Leveraging Cover Crops for Wildlife Benefits

Earlier in the article, it was mentioned that cover crops can often bring in wildlife and essentially work as a food plot and double as a farming technique. For some who farm and also hunt, implementing a cover crop plan could save on traditional food plot or wildlife plots.

 
Courtesy of Jacob Hofer

Measuring Success

With the use of cover crops bringing in more wildlife it could be helpful to see what animals are visiting your property. A trail camera could be a great addition to help you monitor the new activity. In your fields there will also be a helpful hold of nitrogen and other nutrients for the next years crop. It is pressing that hunters and farmers strive to keep wildlife management a main priority. This wildlife helps to improve the diversity of your area, for yourself as well as future generations. 

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My name is Miranda Wright and I am currently a junior at Western Illinois University majoring in Agriculture Science with a minor in Agriculture Economics. I am from Henry, Illinois where I grew up on a grain and cattle operation. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post!

 

Hogs Gone Wild

The United States records an economic loss of an estimated 1.5 billion dollars each year from feral hogs. From an agriculture stand point, feral hogs cause 800 million dollars of damage across the United States. The feral hog is becoming one the biggest problems in agriculture to date in the southern part of the United States and soon to be the entire country. More than 6 million feral hogs spread across 35 states. One of the main reasons why they are so invasive and spreading so rapidly is because of their litter size and gestation length. The range that a feral sow can give birth is anywhere from 1-12 piglets, a sow can also have two litters per year. With that being said, the rate of which feral hogs are being born is quite fast; this is leading to major issues with agriculture in the United States.

Hogs In Agricultre

Crop Production

Many people like myself don’t acknowledge feral hogs and how they impact crop production. We generally focus on how to eliminate invasive weeds, diseases, or pests that have effects on yields and not so much on these invasive animals. Feral hogs impact crops by rooting ground, digging, trample, and consumption of crops. Someone might ask, “what is rooting, and trample?” Rooting is where a hog uses their “snout” or nose to move soil aside; trample is the mixing of soil by walking on it and causing compaction leaving the soil harder for vegetation to grow.

Rooting
Photo Credit: wild-wonderings.blogspot.com

Livestock Production

One of biggest concerns livestock producers have are feral hogs. There are several different reasons why feral hogs may concern a livestock producer. A very strong concern would be that feral hogs are predators. If hogs get into a producers livestock they could quite possibly chase off the mothers and then begin to go after their young. The biggest concern would most definitely have to be disease. Disease is a very hard battle to fight, especially when a feral hog can contain up to 45 significant viral and bacterial diseases. This could potentially eliminate someone’s entire livestock population. All it takes is for one animal to get sick, then it is very challenging to catch it and stop it before it effects the animals dramatically.

Photo by USDA APHIS Wildlife Services

feral hogs in cattle by

How can they be stopped?

With the fast growing population of hogs there has to be some sort of way to control the population. There are two major ways that they can be controlled. One being nonlethal and the other being lethal.

Nonlethal

There are several nonlethal methods to control feral hogs, these methods intended uses are to relocate the hogs to get them off property or keep them off the owners property. The most common method would be installing high quality fencing and checking it regularly. This would allow the owner to keep them off his or her property with very low input cost. Another method to keep unwanted hogs off property would be by having guard animals; this would allow the owner to know when there are hogs near by. Lastly someone could set out traps. A trapping system can be very effective but also very ineffective as well. The way a trapping system works is the hogs would be baited into the trap and then closed behind them. Some people use circular traps that are elevated off of the ground and then by via camera they can drop the trap and then the hogs are in a pen essentially. Feral hogs seem to cooperate with this trapping method the best because they do not feel nervous like they would having to enter a trap. The goal is to have as many hogs in the trapping area as possible. The major flaw with this method is sometimes the hogs will out run the speed of which the trap is falling and then escape.

Lethal

In some cases lethal options for controlling feral hog populations is the only option. Feral hogs can be hunted all year long without a limit to an individual. People also will take controlling hogs to the sky. With this I mean people will have helicopters set up to where they can eliminate numerous hogs on a given property. This is an effective method for inaccessible places like marshes and swaps. Lastly, the most effective way to control an out of control feral hog population is by poisoning. This has not always been an option. In February 2017, the state of Texas made it legal to use poison as a control method. Other states are now considering adopting this law.

Problem Solved?

The feral hog overpopulation can simply not be stopped over night, but with more people getting involved and trying to stop the outrage the hog population could possibly slow down very fast. This would help benefit the farmers whose crops are getting destroyed, the livestock producers animals from getting ill and ultimately helping the economy.

Bio

My name is Brett Leahr and I am from Pittsfield, Illinois. I am a Junior at Western Illinois University studying Agriculture Business with a minor in Agronomy.  I am involved in Alpha Gamma Sigma at the university and plan to join more clubs in the future. I have a passion for agriculture, conservation, and animals.Professional Picture 2016

Sources:

Society, The Wildlife. “Feral Swine: Impacts of Invasive Species.” Feral Swine: Impacts of Invasive Species (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

“Feral Swine Impacts on Agriculture and the Environment.” N.p., n.d. Web.

State University, Mississippi. “Wild Pigs.” Wild Pig Info – Feral Hog Control and Management. Mississippi State University, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

Morthland, John. “A Plague of Pigs in Texas.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, 01 Jan. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

“Frequently Asked Questions-Wild Pigs.” Coping with Feral Hogs. Texas A&M, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

Hunting For Conservation

Conservation. A quick Google search defines this word as “preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife.” When some people think of conservation they picture state parks, restoration projects, or nature centers. Other people, for example those in agriculture, think of conservation as soil management and using better practices in crop and livestock production that are better for the environment. However there is an industry out there that is sometimes overlooked in their efforts for conservation. The hunting industry works every day to achieve goals in conservation and without conservation, there is nothing to hunt.

How have hunters helped with conservation?

Hunters in today’s society can have a negative image in the eyes of the general public because the media tends to focus on the very low percentage of hunters doing illegal activities such as poaching. What does not get noticed by people is the fact that hunters play a very big role in conservation, not only with the habitat but also with the wildlife. Laws and regulations set by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are there for the purpose of ensuring that populations of different wildlife species are well managed. Hunters are required to abide by these laws and regulations. The DNR issues licenses and fees for the ability to hunt and the money from this alone, which is almost $800 million a year, goes towards conservation programs. Other contributors for conservation programs include taxes on guns, ammunition, bows and arrows, and memberships to non-profit organizations.

The role of non-profit organizations in conservation.

NWTF
Volunteer committee at the WIU Sportsman’s Club NWTF Banquet. Photo Credit: Jesse Williams

There are several non-profit organizations throughout the country that make it their goal to make conservation better for future generations. Some of these organizations include the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), Ducks Unlimited (DU), and Whitetails Unlimited (WU). These organizations do very large amounts of work for conservation, which is largely accomplished by volunteers. Without volunteer efforts in each and every single one of these organizations, conservation would not have come this far. One example is with the NWTF, who has a 10 year initiative to conserve or enhance 4 million acres of critical upland habitat, create 1.5 million hunters, and open access to 500,000 additional acres for hunting.

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Photo Credit: Tod Marquith

All of these organizations host regional and national banquets that are used as fundraisers to raise money for conservation. The conservation effort is strongly encouraged at these banquets and having participated in them myself, I get to see this first hand. I have had the privilege to attend NWTF National Convention two years in a row and the atmosphere that is created by hunters and our passion for conservation is incredible to experience. I would highly recommend attending the convention to anyone, no matter the background a person may have.

Why is conservation so important?

Referring back to the definition of conservation, it includes the preservation, protection, and restoration of wildlife. This is one of the most important parts of conservation efforts because in the recent past wildlife populations were very low. In the early 1900’s, the whitetail deer population was as low as 500,000 and the turkey population was around 100,000. Thanks to the conservation efforts, the whitetail population has skyrocketed to a population of over 32 million and the turkey population has climbed to over 7 million. It is more than just deer and turkey that once had very low populations; waterfowl also used to have a very low population. In the early 1900’s, there were very few ducks left in the United States compared to today’s standards. Once again through conservation programs, the duck population has risen all the way to over 44 million today. Another important component is restoring habitat for these populations to continue thriving. As a whole, people need to work together for conservation.

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”                                                                               -Theodore Roosevelt

Moving Forward…

Conservation efforts are never complete. Goals are reached, then new ones are set. To learn more about how hunters play role in conservation, the websites of the non-profit organizations are good tools for information. To join the conservation effort, contact a local chapter of these organizations for volunteering opportunities.

fenceMy name is Wrigley Marquith and I live in Apple River, IL. I am a senior at Western Illinois University studying Agricultural Business with an emphasis in Animal Science. I am involved in multiple clubs and organizations at WIU including Alpha Gamma Sigma and the WIU Sportsman’s Club. I have a passion for the outdoors and love hunting, fishing, and camping. I have been a volunteer for the National Wild Turkey Federation for the past 3 years and plan to keep volunteering after graduation. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me anytime at wd-marquith@wiu.edu

WIU Sportsman Club

About WIU Sportsman: The WIU Sportsman Club is comprised of students who love spending time outdoors. During your time as a member you will get to enjoy various hunting and fishing trips that are established during meetings. We also as a club hold raffles and banquets in order to help support our foundation and enable us to keep the WIU Sportsman Club alive.

How to get involved: Every fall semester various clubs and intermural teams hold an open house in the Union Grand Ball Room. Which time incoming freshmen or transfer students can sign up for the team or club in which they desire. This is where I had the unique opportunity to sign up for the Sportsman Club, where you will put down your phone number and email address in order to inform you of meeting times, locations, changes, and other items of business. If for some reason you cannot attend the open house you can contact someone you know who is in the club. Or using Western’s home page and in the search bar type in Sportsman Club it will tell you when and where to meet, who is in charge, and how to contact them.

Meetings: Meetings are held on Thursdays every week, unless informed otherwise, generally around 6 p.m. either in Waggoner Hall room 202 or at Argyle Trap Range. The duration of the meetings is completely dependent on how much material we have to discuss, they can last 20 minutes or they can last up to an hour. The first meeting of the year is to cover the bases of what is needed to join; such things include a 20 dollar fee and a foid card if you are going to bring a firearm and ammunition. If you do not have a foid card the members of the club will be more than willing to help you obtain one. Because the storage of a firearm or ammunition is obviously prohibited on campus you might be wondering then where do we keep them if we want to bring our own? Some members of the club have apartments off campus that would be willing to shelter your firearm until the time you need it. I myself had to have the president of the club shelter my gun until we went on a hunt or to the trap range.

After the first meeting we discuss various things such as banquets in which the students of the club sell tickets in order to raise money for our club. At which time the participators of the banquet can win various prizes and enjoy a delightful meal. Also during the club meetings members organize hunting trips, fishing trips, and a raffle in order to further our funding for the club. On days that are nice out we tend to make our way out the trap range and get to shoot 25 rounds for 5 dollars. If you have your firearm at someone’s apartment they will bring it with them or you can use someone else’s gun, however you have to bring your own ammunition. Not everyone who joins the club is going to like both the hunting and fishing, as for me I joined for the hunting portion. While I do occasionally like to fish but when it comes between the two, hunting takes the top priority.

Hunting and Fishing Trips: Last year we were able to do a pheasant hunt that was located pheasant-hunt-01-1a couple of hours away from Western. Upon arrival of the place we were given instructions of what would happen and then proceeded to the hunting grounds. The man had several acres of upland game bird habitat and ran bird dogs to aid us in harvesting the pheasants. As shown from the pictures it was a rather successful and fun day. After the hunt was over we paid a portion of the fee and then the club covered the rest. We took the birds back with us, cleaned them and then divided them up between the members of the club.

Also from last year we were able to take a trip down to Missouri in pheasant-hunt-02order to go fly fishing. The club stayed at a cabin and had to purchase their own fishing license, pole, lures and waders if you were daring enough to plunge yourself into the cold water. The trip was for two days and again was successful in catching various amounts of fish. The club this year is looking to return to the pheasant grounds and is hopefully able to keep the good fortune alive. We are in the process now of organizing a hog hunt that is close enough to drive there in a reasonable amount of time and back so we do not have to miss much classroom time.

Banquet and Raffle: Every year in the month of September the club holds a banquet in which the members of the club are given tickets and are expected to sell them. As stated above during the banquet attendees can win various prizes, play unique games, and enjoy a delicious meal. Last year during the WIU AgMech show we were able to raffle off a brand new rifle. The club had its own booth in which spectators would come and buy tickets and then we drew their name out when the event was over. All of the money earned from both the banquet and the raffle goes towards our club funding in order for us to continue what we love to do. If you are wanting to find out more about our organization we do have a Facebook page. All you have to do is type in the search bar WIU Sportsman Club and you will be able to find what you are seeking for.

 

Author

 

My name is Matt Nielsen, in the first picture I am second from the right, and am a senior here at Western. I am currently pursuing a degree in Agriculture Science and have had the unique opportunity to join the Sportsman Club here at Western.

Fowl Farming

There are many types of farming practices that we think about daily as agriculturalists. Examples being your standard conventional farming, no-till, organic, etc. In these practices we are all after a common goal, to produce high healthy yields for a profit. Some people have a different outlook and strategies on how to produce those yields. What if there is another type of farming out there, a type of farming that is not trying to produce high bushel crop, but instead, high yields of waterfowl and wildlife. I’m talking about a farming practice for the conservationists, for the guys that like to duck, deer, pheasant, quail, and turkey hunt. This is a farming practice that is for hunting purposes. Basically planting a crop and leaving it to the wildlife as a food source.  Some might be a little confused by this strategy and think that planting a crop and maybe not even harvesting it is absurd.  In someway this is true, but our vision is habitat. We are doing this to create a healthy environment not only for wildfowl, but for ourselves as well.

The main focus here is waterfowl, focusing directly towards duck hunters. The only thing we are trying to achieve is to have a good waterfowl population for our own hunting/recreational pleasure. A lot of people want an area for waterfowl to stage and relax. Some guys may or may not know how to achieve this, but most all of them do not see the small benefits this creates. “Cells” are your first plan of attack, it doesn’t matter how many or how big, that all depends on how much room you have. Lets say you have 80 acres that you want to turn into waterfowl habitat. Making a levee around your 80 acres then levee off each crop section. You want to split it up into your “cell” sections. Example being 4 sections of 20 acres or 2 sections of 40 acres, how you split it is up to you.  We want to do this that way you have a crop rotation of moist soil crops and a grain crop. Most of us know that corn in the dominant plant when it comes to staging waterfowl. This is all true, but planting corn year after year starts to deplete your nutrients in your soil, and more and more fertilizer goes on for a better corn crop. What you might try is planting millet, milo, buckwheat, flax seed, natural grasses, even wheat, in three of the cells, and plant one cell with corn. What this will do is provide early season food and late season food. Early season being your grass species and your corn late season when they need that high energy from starch to migrate. As temperatures rise and drop, these different types of food provide ducks with what they need. They will fluctuate from moist soil plants early in the year to corn later in the year when temperatures begin to become cold. If you create something like this I can promise you will hold waterfowl for years to come. “If you have food and habitat, you will have ducks, if you have food, habitat, and weather, you will have a lot of ducks”-Frank Bellrose

The grass species will act as a filter for water that you pump or drain in. Cleaner water is a must for our ecosystem and yes as stewards of the land we are getting better about water quality. These grasses will act as a natural watershed, which is an adopted practice being brought up by many farmers. There is even some government funding for these practices. What the grasses will do is filter out most of the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with other nutrients in the water, grass species will actually take up and use these nutrients in their own growth. With water being on your millet or Milo this will also provide habit for waterfowl. Grass species are also excellent for keeping fertile soil. Taller the plant gets the deeper roots go, when in time with crop rotation each year,  you will have a healthier corn plant. Remember the more root depth you get the healthier the plant you have. The clean water that has been depleted of excess nitrogen and other nutrients can be flooded onto your corn acres. The corn cell you can do what you want with. If you want to pick it and make some yield off of it you can or leave it standing that’s your choice to make, it still provides food and habitat.

Using grasses in your cells you provide healthier soil and water quality for years to come. Management of these areas are crucial in order to get the outcome you are looking for. If you rotate crops every year with grasses and corn, you will have a much better corn crop, much more fertile soil and much better water quality, with low inputs of fertilizer, and yes a high yield in waterfowl and wildlife numbers.

by:  Jason Hire

I am an Ag Science major at Western Illinois University. I love everything there is about agriculture, though I didn’t grow up on a farm I grew up hunting with my dad and grandfather. I guess this is where my love of Ag came from because I wanted to give something back to nature. The only way I could think of was learning how to grow crops better.

 

Food Plots for Thought?

 

Both farmers and hunters don’t always get the most positive image in today’s society, but it’s important to realize that a common goal between these two types of people is managing wildlife. Growing up I remember tagging along with my dad and older brothers when they went driving around and I quickly learned it was a good sign to see deer in the fields, especially close to hunting season. However I also learned that for farmers, seeing deer feeding in their fields is a nuisance. Not only deer, but wildlife in general can become a nuisance when they start feeding on farmers’ crops. To be a good hunter, you need to be a good conservationist as well. Hunters should be taught that managing wildlife is the main reason why there are hunting seasons. One way to manage wildlife is by planting food plots.

What are food plots and why are they so important to wildlife management?

Food plots are sections of land designed as a quality source of food for deer and wildlife to utilize year round. There’s no one way to plant a food plot. It can be a variety of legumes, grains, or wildflowers, but doesn’t have to be limited to these options.  One point to remember about planting a successful food plot is location. It needs to be in a spot where there is cover, and agricultural fields are usually out in the open where deer and other wildlife are exposed. Wildlife will more likely utilize the food plot and minimize pressure in farmer’s crops if provided with a food plot that provides nutritional value and cover year round.

food-plot-1
Photo Credit: Ryan Tolbert

The importance of food plots to wildlife management lies in the nutritional and protein value that wildlife can benefit from. For example, hunters want to see deer at their fullest potential in body size, antler growth, and especially in prime health. To reach full potential, deer need more than the 8% protein they are getting from corn. Planting Brassicas, for example, which are cool season annuals, can provide around 30% protein. Deer are browsers by nature and a food plot is land to be browsed for it’s content.

Why do food plots benefit hunters?

Food plots are used to draw in and keep wildlife around the area that hunters use. If you don’t own land to hunt on, getting permission and access to hunting ground isn’t always easy. When they do get the opportunity, hunters want to make that ground as attractive to wildlife as possible so they can successfully participate in hunting seasons and manage the wildlife population.

Another reason food plots are beneficial to hunters is that they offer diversity to the wildlife in the area. Did you know that around 70% of a deer’s diet can come from food plots? In the Midwest, corn and soybeans are the most common crops and they have limited growing seasons starting in the spring and going through the summer months. Food plots offer diversity where crops in the Midwest can’t always offer the diversity needed to provide for the diets of wildlife . When the corn and soybean fields are harvested, wildlife will be more likely to stick around if they have the nutrition and protein source available. In turn, this provides a much more desirable animal to harvest.

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Photo Credit: Ryan Tolbert

What’s in it for the farmers?

Damage to crops done by wildlife is frustrating, especially when there’s not a 100% guarantee of putting a stop to it. Ultimately, the more attracted to a separate, diverse, year round, and secure food plot wildlife are, the more likely they will want to leave the crops alone. In the spring, agricultural fields are in the early emergence stages and if provided with no other option, deer will be out in the fields feeding on the young plants.

Since food plots are meant for places with cover, it is sometimes not on tillable land. Farmers and/or landowners would like to see land being used to the most potential that it can be used, otherwise the area may become so overgrown and undesirable for any wildlife to establish and keep a habitat in that area. Farmers are often thought of as caretakers of the land, leaving it in better condition than what they started with. Allowing food plots on their land is a smart decision on managing the wildlife population on their respective farms.

Planting the Seed…

Whether you’re a hunter, farmer, landowner, or all the above, implementing food plots is beneficial to your management goals of the land. Food plots are important to meeting or exceeding the goals of wildlife management as well. Here in the Midwest, specifically Illinois, agriculture and hunting are both successful industries. It’s crucial for hunters and farmers to continue to have wildlife management as a common goal. To learn more, contact your local agronomist or state’s wildlife biologist. Start your food plots today!

 

marissatolbert11My name is Marissa Tolbert and I’m from Jerseyville, IL. Currently a senior at WIU, I’m studying Agriculture Business with a minor in Accounting. Since starting school at Western, I have become involved in several student organizations on campus including Sigma Alpha, Sportsman’s Club, and Ag Council. I am also a member of National Wild Turkey Federation. In my free time I love spending time with my family back home or enjoying the great outdoors whether it’s hunting, fishing, or trapshooting. I hope you enjoyed reading my blog and if you have any questions feel free to contact me at md-tolbert@wiu.edu