Brood Field Conundrum

A New Approach to an Age-old Problem


Since the 1920’s land managers like Herbert Stoddard have used a tractor and plow to break up monocultures of native warm season grasses and increase weed or forb production. In the late 90’s the Albany Quail Project began reducing upland hardwood populations and created a patchwork of small fields that aided in the brood rearing capabilities of the bobwhite quail. The success was amazing. They brought wild quail populations back to or above the old glory days of quail hunting. Since that time, the modus operandi on quail plantations throughout the southeast has been to disk small fields (1-5 acres) prior to quail season beginning in November. These endeavors are time consuming, require expensive equipment, burn a lot of fuel, and require too many man hours to be practical for most landowners. Not to mention, annual tillage has been proven to reduce microbial biomass, reduce organic matter, increase compaction, increase erosion, and reduce water absorption rates. These factors all lead to a reduction in soil productivity. So much so, that after several years, these same plantations began adding lime and fertilizer to their weed fields!

I propose a different solution to the Tall Timbers/ Albany Quail Project approach to brood fields. A tool that is already in the toolbox. In fact, it is the most efficient tool for any landowner. Fire. In a scenario where a landowner is trying to bring quail back to their property, I propose that they go into it with the mindset that they are not going to follow the traditional approach. Instead, they are going to plan out areas in similar size and shape to the traditional brood field. Then use fire in place of cutting all the trees, pulling or grinding the stumps, picking up roots for days, and being stuck on which acreage is removed year in and year out.

Now, instead of spending time and fuel destroying the soil on 20-30% of their property, they are going to burn 20-30% of their property between September 15 and November 15. In addition to eliminating cover on a portion of the property, concentrating quail on the remainder, this timing will favor herbaceous plants over native grasses, increase natural pine regeneration*, is more effective in reducing hardwood encroachment, affords a manager the flexibility to change the acres that are burned from one year to the next, and allows the landowner to grow timber (although BA needs to be kept under 60) on a higher percentage of the property.  

There will be plenty of managers that tell me that they can’t burn that time of year. The humidity is too high, can’t burn in areas we are going to hunt, what if the fire gets out, blah, blah, blah. Try it on a small scale. Take one course and implement it. Is every day between September 15 and November 15 going to be a good burn day? Of course not. How long will it take to disk 25% versus burn 25%? If you haven’t removed the pines and have straw on the ground, you can burn the same day after a morning .5” rain with 70% humidity- done it. Are there areas that you will not be able to use this method? Absolutely. You will fail at 100% of the things you do not try. I believe this method is worth a shot. Let me know what you think.


*increasing pine regeneration in loblolly or slash pine stands may not be an objective. However, natural regeneration sapling pine stands provide excellent winter cover at years 2 and 3 and are easily killed with fire. Obviously, this will be more of an issue on years with heavy masting. Those not killed with fire at year three can be mowed, post fire, with any light duty mower. Managing for natural longleaf stands in perpetuity requires uneven age management and this method will help with establishment of regeneration.

**the picture was a fire conducted on August 20. Narrow-leaf desmodium exploded the following year.


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