Navigation: Home > News > The UGUIDE Food Cover Plot System

The UGUIDE Food Cover Plot System

April 28, 2018 by

A lot of folks have helped me out over the years and one way I can give back to the state of pheasants is to share the food plot system we use that has been developed since 2002.

Food or Cover?

One thing our hunters have a good sense for is high quality cover that attracts and holds birds.  This can be a variety of things but nothing shines better in the hunt for fair chase pheasants than a well done food cover plot.  You normally hear them called food plots but I like to call them what they should be called which is a food cover plot.  You need both.  A food plot without cover or a cover plot without food are neither as effective as a food plot with cover.  That very principle will cause some new design on plots this year on our farm.


Since 2002 I think we have done something different to tweak our plot system.  I’ve resigned to the fact that it is always a research project!  We’ve never been closer to a final established system but there’s always room for improvement.  Weather, learning how to grow a crop and a host of other variables can cause setbacks each year so don’t let a failure get you down.  I tried replanting a plot 3 times in the same year before I found out that the herbicide I used the year before was knocking out the plot I was trying to grow!

The Basics

Many landowners start out by poking a stick at their plots and not investing in what is required.  Myself included.   Bottom line is you need to follow good agronomic soil health practices much like you would do in growing a cash crop.  Some of these principles involve:  No-till (not disturbing the soil),  keep the ground covered (leave your plots standing through winter and mulch them down in spring), intensive crop rotations (corn and milo is not enough), design for cover and food (not the case in production crops), develop a system that allows you to eventually reduce synthetic amendments like fertilizers and herbicides.  Keep good year over year notes so you know exactly what you did when it comes time to tweak.  Leave your plots standing all winter.  Sometimes it’s the only cover birds have left for survival in the harshest winters.

Size Matters (and location too)

You can increase your results while lowering your costs.  That’s optimization.  We have actually decreased the size of our plots and total plot acres while increasing the quality, diversity and impact of plots.  I like plots in the 1-2 acres size.  About 60 foot wide or close to that with whatever works for your equipment.  I operate a 10’ drill, 15’ and 10’ mowers and 30’ sprayer .  In a single field where I might have 2 60’ plots I may even go down to 30’ wide and have 4 plots evenly distributed across the CRP field.  The biggest mistake people make is not designing these plots into newly enrolled CRP contracts.  Don’t design just for fall hunting but also these other critical elements:  winter survival, spring nest building, and summer brood rearing.

The System

No doubt pheasants love corn but continuous corn is not sustainable.  Pheasants also like milo (grain sorghum) but that is also a warm season grass like corn so there are no rotational benefits from those two crops alone.  I tried soybeans but while good for the soil, given another choice, pheasants prefer other food.  2 years ago I tried the brood plot mix that others were trying.  It is the only mix I know of that is multimode in that it acts as a food plot for young birds during critical summer months by holding their main diet of insects.  Then in the fall it converts to a mainly grain cover plot to attract and hold mature birds.  We get our seed from Millborn Seed and they call their diverse mix Brood2Rooster.  I plant that at 15lbs per acre on 7.5” rows.  Since this mix is so diverse there are not post emergent herbicide options so burn it down with roundup at plant and cross your fingers.  I like roundup ready corn in our corn plots to allow for a post emergent weed control option.  This year we are interseeding our corn plots with some cover crops to help fix nitrogen and also control weeds without chemicals.  I have planted corn in a drill on 7.5 inch rows but will move spacing out to 30” and fill in between rows with covers.  Next is Milo.  I am doing a trial this year to run half the drill at 10lbs/acre and the other half at 20.  Getting it on too thick may cause stalk thinning and it may not stand in high winds.  This plot is extremely valuable for cover in winter and getting it right is important. Milo gives me the opportunity to clean up some nasty weeds with burn down and pre-emergent herbicides like Dual and Atrazine and then 2-4-D/Dicamba post emergent to cleanup any rogue broadleaf weeds.  I also like Verdict as a replacement for the Dual and Atrazine.  So my rotation is Milo, Corn and Brood2Rooster.  You need two years between herbicides used on milo to not impact the broadleaves in the Brood mix.  We have some photos here of the system results.


You won’t figure it out the first year so keep after it.  One great thing about herbicides is you can learn all you need to know by reading the labels on the containers or online.  You will have to learn a little about farming to do food cover plots well whether you do them yourself or hire them out.  Make sure to also pay attention to soil temps when it comes to planting and don’t short yourself on fertilizers and herbicides.  Always think Food AND Cover!

Posted in: News, Conservation, Habitat Management, Agriculture

Reader Comments

1 Comment on The UGUIDE Food Cover Plot System

  • A good read, I have not used any chemicals and have many Canadian thistles. I do not want to lose the milkweed as we are trying to help the butterflies. Also this project is for quail as we no longer have any pheasant. Any info on this subject is very helpful. Keep up the good work. Thank you much!

    steve Harlan July 23, 2018 12:07 PM

Would you like to comment?

** Your comment will posted after approval