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Difficult-to-access farmland is developed into wildlife habitat

An 8-acre tract is converted into a wildlife refuge for deer.

Shelley E. Huguley

November 1, 2019

3 Min Read
SWFP-SHELLEY-HUGULEY-19-mary-grace-lebeda-pond.jpg
This pond, along with food plots planted nearby, provides deer habitat on Mary Grace Lebeda's farm. David Fink, owner of Plots Gone Wild, developed the habitat and maintains the area for Lebeda. Shelley E. Huguley

An 8-acre tract of land on Mary Grace Lebeda’s Ponca City, Okla., farm may be too difficult to access with today’s large farm equipment, but an ideal location to create wildlife habitat. Rather than leaving it fallow or attempting to plant the hard-to-access acres with traditional crops, Lebeda, with the help of David Fink, a family friend and farm employee, has dedicated the area to habitat improvement.

The wildlife plot, part of an 80-acre tract of land, is located feet from Lebeda’s farmhouse and is beside a pond and adjacent to a small tree row. In addition to providing a haven for wildlife, it’s somewhat of a refuge for Lebeda who watches deer come and go from the second-floor windows of her farmhouse, a place she’s lived for the past 60 years.

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Fink, who also owns Plots Gone Wild, plants everything from alfalfa to four different species of clover to chicory and brassicas and turnips and radishes. While he’s been working for the Lebeda’s since he was 14 and often planting larger seeds like corn, he says planting little seeds for plots requires a different mindset. “With big, strong seeds, if you miss the depth by a little bit, they're going to come out anyway. Little bitty seeds, if it says 16th of an inch and you put it in an eighth of an inch, you're not going to get it,” Fink says.

When planting mixes or seed blends, which require various planting depths, Fink says he uses different planting methods. “I plant everything at the same time. A lot of it I plant to the minimum depth of my smallest seed. Some of it’s culti-packed, and some of it's drug over.”

To culti-pack, Fink uses a roller to press the seed to the soil. Though the seed may not actually be in the soil, Fink says as long as it’s pressed firmly to the ground and receives moisture, it will germinate and grow.

Fink also utilizes crop rotation. “I rotate perennials, annuals, legumes, grasses and cereal grains. I rotate so many years with my legume perennials and then so many years taking the nitrogen out of the soil with my annuals.”

Planting smaller plots also requires smaller equipment. Fink uses a 39-horsepower tractor and a compact track loader. “It’s basically a skid-steer on tracks. I put about 4 ½ to 5 pounds per square inch across the track, so I’m not compacting the soil, but the tracks are big enough I can get over gullies and in places where wheeled machines can’t go.”

But he’s also not doing the big cultivation, he says. “I’m only planting four-foot-wide at a time.”

Lebeda’s habitat plot near her home, and two additional plots Fink has developed are not for hunting but are strictly a food source for deer and other wildlife. “It’s food for the bucks after breeding season,” Fink explains. “Because they've got a one-track mind, they will stop eating and lose a great deal of weight. If they don't have an abundant food source after that time, you lose a lot of them.

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“For the does, the food area is there for when they're carrying babies or when they're lactating. It provides cover forage. It just improves the herd.”

Though the plot is surrounded by acres of row crops, which also provide food for wildlife, Fink says once those fields are harvested, the wildlife have limited food options. Fink intentionally plants vegetation that will feed the wildlife year-round.

“I’m not planting any old food. I’m looking at total digestible nutrients, protein levels and crude fiber.”

Developing wildlife habitat isn’t something that happens overnight. Fink says it’s a long process, “You have to plan ahead.”

From the time he began developing the habitat in 2005 to today, Fink says the size of the deer, male or female, has improved. “The average weight has increased nearly 50 pounds in overall size,” he says. “And they’re healthy.”

For more information about food plots or habitat improvement, go to www.plotsgonewild.com.

About the Author(s)

Shelley E. Huguley

Editor, Southwest Farm Press

Shelley Huguley has been involved in agriculture for the last 25 years. She began her career in agricultural communications at the Texas Forest Service West Texas Nursery in Lubbock, where she developed and produced the Windbreak Quarterly, a newspaper about windbreak trees and their benefit to wildlife, production agriculture and livestock operations. While with the Forest Service she also served as an information officer and team leader on fires during the 1998 fire season and later produced the Firebrands newsletter that was distributed quarterly throughout Texas to Volunteer Fire Departments. Her most personal involvement in agriculture also came in 1998, when she married the love of her life and cotton farmer Preston Huguley of Olton, Texas. As a farmwife she knows first-hand the ups and downs of farming, the endless decisions that have to be made each season based on “if” it rains, “if” the drought continues, “if” the market holds. She is the bookkeeper for their family farming operation and cherishes moments on the farm such as taking harvest meals to the field or starting a sprinkler in the summer with the whole family lending a hand. Shelley has also freelanced for agricultural companies such as Olton CO-OP Gin, producing the newsletter Cotton Connections while also designing marketing materials to promote the gin. She has published articles in agricultural publications such as Southwest Farm Press while also volunteering her marketing and writing skills to non-profit organizations such a Refuge Services, an equine-assisted therapy group in Lubbock. She and her husband reside in Olton with their three children Breely, Brennon and HalleeKate.

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