Small grains for quail in corn/bean country.....where to start

Farm is high quality corn/bean ground in Western IL, just south of I-80.

Thinking about talking to my farmer about setting aside 5 to 10 acres of small grains on my family's farm next spring. I currently have about 2 coveys of quail using some CRP on the property. I think I could add maybe some nesting, broading cover with the right small grains, and I know in KS we see a lot of quail in and around picked sorghum fields.

However this becomes a question of 1) equipment, 2) timing, and 3) finding a crop that is right for the area

I have zero equipment. I would be relying on being able to talk my farmer into planing something different than normal. He is not going to be purchasing new equipment. The timing would have to fit in with his normal planting harvesting schedule. It would have to be picked after nesting season is done. I would be willing to substantially reduce or eliminate the cash rent on a few acres if it will help the birds and provide some additional hunting habitat. But it has to be viable and reasonably easy for my farmer. If it has a side benefit of producing some fodder he could sell to someone with some cows or pigs that might really help things along.

In my initial research it appears that spring oats might be a possibility. But not being a habitat expert I don't know whether this might help the quail, nor do I know if the farmer would be able to plant and harvest a small patch of spring oats without messing up his normal procedures.

Sorry to puke out a bunch of random thoughts. If any of you guys have any thoughts on an easy way to throw in some patches of small grains in the corn belt that would help the habitat along I'm all ears.
Your Local Quail Forever Bioligist or States Upland biloligst would be a good place to start .

It’s quiet possible that some Milo or sorghum might help out , or it maybe boring and a light discing of your Crp might produce ubundant forbes and help your birds out .

Undisturbed grass lands are definitely an important factor ,

a site visit by biologist can let you know what the limiting factor might be ( the thing that would boost your populations the best )

He or she likely know who has the equipment that can help you out , might be cost share money available also ,

I really respect farmers and their profession , most have more than they can handle and are stretched thin already tough for them to do something that doesn’t add to their bottom line ,

I have recently purchased over 25 k of tractor trailer and habitat equipment , wish I was

as in the neighboring county I would give you a hand .

Prairie Driffter here is a Quail / habitat specialist you might PM him

Prairie Drifter

Active member
Makintrax, don't get sucked into the "this seed will grow you quail" myth! Bobwhite are a low successional grassland/scrubland species. The management that they really benefit from are prescribed fire and grazing in NWSG grasslands. They are pretty much an obligate of these two management practices. If you have CRP, you may well not be allowed the grazing, but you sure can use the fire. Will quail use crops, yes. But to "produce" quail, you have to maximize the quantity and quality of their nesting and brood-rearing habitat. That would be native grass with a strong forb component and weeds. Having a biologist on site is a great first step. Your quail need more useable space. For much of the year your cropland is anything but useable as it is either bare ground or bare ground with 1 species of plants growing on it. Do you have areas that are either having erosion problems or not profitable to farm? Consider putting those into filter strips of native grass and forbs. That is adding more useable space! Your limiting factors are not available crops, it is available nesting and brood-rearing cover. Crops are generally most valuable in the fall and winter after all of the nesting, brood-rearing, and recruitment has taken place. You have to provide useable "spring" cover for those most valuable production periods. Crops of most types are not generally considered attractive nesting habitat for bobwhite.
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Prairie Drifter always has the best habitat advice. I will never disagree with what he writes. But I will add some advice to all of his. I think all of his suggestions are the most important considerations for nesting and brood-rearing in the summer and important for food sources in the winter. However, there is no better winter food source than grain fields in my opinion. There is a reason they are ALWAYS packed with birds, especially quail. Some studies have shown that quail with access to grain come out of the winter healthier, which can lead to increased nesting activity and success. I think it's important that they don't have to work so hard to find food... this keeps them from having to cover so much ground and become visible to more predators. Just my two cents.
The reason I'm coming at it from this direction is basically financial. I have +/- 25 ac of CRP. Already earning about $50/ac less on the CRP than farm rent. Last I had heard there were no more contracts available for additional CRP acres. I am making a plan to better manage some CRP and waste ground in the spring, but hope to do more.

The reason I asked is IL DNR cites changes away from small grains as one causal factor in the 90% fall in IL quail harvest over the last 30 years. One of the things we are seeing at the cutting edge of soil health / nitrate runoff is a push to a 3 crop rotation and cover crops. So that might be something I could angle into with the farmer. Simply taking away more of his tillable acres isn't likely to endear me with him, and I need his help with maintenance of the CRP as I have no equipment except an ATV and a 15 gal sprayer.
I am in the eastern part of Ks that is extensively farmed as well and while I was not able enroll our large tract of CRP I was able to add about a mile of buffer strip 60yards wide to our property .

I think the practices were a combination of CP 33 , pollinator strip and “State acres for wildlife “

We are getting paid double of the 80 acres that was not eligible to resign .