skip to content

Early Fall HOWA 2011

Creating food plots for wildlife

Rural resident enjoys growing crops for animals and birds

Mark Thompson grows crops for wildlife

Mark Thompson grows crops for wildlife.

Business owner and farmer Mark Thompson helped solve a problem for some of his neighbors in northwestern Iowa while furthering his life-long passion of supporting wildlife conservation efforts.

Thompson — who lives on 7ฝ acres near Primghar (population approximately 770) — also owns two farms 23 miles away in Waterman Township. One farm is 160 acres; the other 60 acres. They are separated by a 20-acre parcel of land.

"About 15 years ago, I began planting food plots on my land after seeing what was happening to wildlife," Thompson says. "When you have 500 deer and turkeys in an area and you get 30 to 40 inches of snow, they are going to cause trouble for farmers. Lacking food, the deer and turkeys wrecked bales of hay, ate cattle feed and generally tore up things in cattle yards. The food plots were a way to keep them out in the wild."

Thompson planted a 92-acre forest on his land. Down the center is a firebreak strip planted in alfalfa, which he keeps mowed. He has about 15 acres of food plots scattered around the two farms, planted to a variety of crops that attract deer, turkeys and pheasants.

He permits area residents to hunt on his property.

Mark Thompson moves snow with his CT440 and snowblower attachment.

Mark Thompson moves snow with his CT440 and snowblower attachment.

"That's a tradition I started a few years ago, and now I have about 30 people each year," he says. "I get a lot of pleasure having them visit and hunt."

Busy in retirement

Thompson retired from being an electronic specialist with a phone company in 1984, but he is far from retired. Managing the food plots, three different farm locations and several in-town businesses keeps him plenty busy.

To help Thompson handle all of these activities, he also "retired" his old farm tractor, a 50-year-old machine that was ill-equipped to keep up with his current demands. He replaced it with a Bobcatฎ CT440 compact tractor and front-end loader last fall.

"The CT440 is so much more versatile with all the attachments and rear implements that allow me to handle just about any work that comes my way," he says.

Bobcat compact tractor snowblower implements.

Bobcat compact tractor snowblower implements.

Whether it's removing snow on his acreage or around his various businesses, or preparing his food plots, Thompson depends on his CT440 to make his life easier.

"I was very familiar with Bobcat skid-steer loaders, but was surprised to discover the company made compact tractors," he says. "I looked at every compact tractor at the Iowa State Fair and the Spencer (Iowa) Fair," he says. "I had a list of requirements — comfort, visibility, enclosed cab with heat and air conditioning and four-wheel drive — that only the Bobcat models measured up to. Since it fit my needs perfectly, I purchased it right at the Spencer Fair. The nearest dealer who had exactly what I was looking for was GDF Enterprises in Windom, Minn."

Thompson's wife Lynette was particularly interested in a compact tractor that did not seem confining. He points out that the CT440 is roomy enough so they both feel comfortable when operating it.

"Plus, you sit high enough so you have an excellent view of the work area," he adds. "It's easy to get in and out of the compact tractor as well."

Mark Thompson spends many hours on the tractor managing his food plots. In addition to digging and hauling with the front-end loader, he has a variety of 3-point implements for plowing, disking, planting and spraying a dozen food plots on the two Waterman Township farms.

"I got even more enjoyment preparing the food plots this year because the compact tractor made everything so much easier," says Thompson. "I work in every type of terrain, up and down. I just get in, push the switch for four-wheel drive and before I know it, the job is done. The tractor does an extremely good job."

Snowblower attachments

Six models of the Bobcat PTO-driven rotary snowblowers are available for compact tractors: three front-mounted versions and three models of 3-point hitch implements. The front-mounted snowblowers require a lift kit (see picture at right).

The harsh winter of 2010–11 put the tractor to the test. Mark Thompson used it to clear the driveway at his home and around his several businesses in town — Thompson Arms Inn & Suites, a car wash, storage units and a rental property.

"If we get a good snowfall — like this past winter — it takes me about two hours to clear the snow," he says. "Most of the sites are really close together. The 72-inch front-mounted snowblower attachment on the compact tractor works great, both out in the open and in confined spaces. Rotating the chute with the joystick control enables me to place the snow exactly where I want. It works super. After using this equipment for a winter, I wouldn't want to be without it."

How to start a food plot

Food plots can be a popular activity for rural homeowners with acreage who want to enhance wildlife habitat. The satisfaction of working with the land can often exceed the value of hunting and viewing wildlife.

Consistently productive food plots require careful thought and planning before they are implemented. According to the Mississippi State University extension service, here are five factors to consider:

  1. Location: Plots should be located on fertile soil with adequate drainage. Cover should be located nearby or scattered across the plot. Food plots should not be established near a public road or waterway due to the increased possibility of poaching.

  2. Size: Plot size and shape may vary with local conditions, but they generally should not be less than 1 acre to ensure adequate sunlight to meet forage production requirements.

  3. Spacing: Plots should be scattered over the entire property, if possible. It is more beneficial to establish 10 plots, 2 acres in size, than to have a single 20-acre field. Cost may dictate total acreage planted.

  4. Soil testing: To ensure productive food plots, conduct soil tests for fertilization and lime requirements. Your local county agent can provide information on soil sample collection and where to send them for analysis. Be sure to list the potential crops to be grown when sending in soil samples for testing.

  5. Planting: Select a plant species or combination of species that will grow on the particular soil type and site that you have. If unsure, ask the county agent, wildlife biologist or local seed supplier. Proper seedbed preparation will increase germination and yield more productive food plots. Plant crops at the prescribed seeding rate and — of course — during the proper planting season.