Habitat & Conservation  |  05/04/2023

Think Long-term for the Birds


Planting cover crops like sorghum in the spring provides critical winter cover for the year ahead

By Michael Retterer

As spring moves forward, land managers will begin to turn their attention to food and cover plots that will support wildlife during the upcoming winter’s inclement weather conditions. 

For many of us, sorghum is the cover of choice for a variety of reasons – food, thermal cover, loafing cover, etc. But keep in mind that not all sorghum varieties are created equal. Aside from color variations in the seeds such as red, orange, bronze, tan, white, and black, there are different applications that can affect the outcome of your hard work. 

Grain sorghum is typically what most people would think of when sorghum is mentioned for upland wildlife cover. It is a sturdy plant, typically 3-5 feet tall and provides a high value food and cover source in late fall and winter. These plantings can also provide valuable summer brooding and loafing cover.

Forage sorghum typically grows 8-15 feet tall and is most popular for use as silage for feeding livestock. It can be used in wildlife plantings for screening purposes or dense bedding and late winter escape areas as long as access is not the primary purpose.  

Biomass sorghum has the largest stature of all the sorghum varieties, reaching a height of 20 feet in a normal growing season. Biomass sorghum has been bred to produce a large amount of non-grain biomass. These hybrids are used primarily to produce bioenergy but can be very beneficial as a late summer planting to provide alternative cover in the case of drought or a failed first planting. 

Sweet sorghum is predominantly grown to produce sorghum syrup. Unlike grain sorghum, sweet sorghum is harvested for the stalks rather than the grain and is crushed like sugar cane or beets to produce a syrup. 

As you can see, the differences are dramatic. The outcome of your planting will be noticeably different based on the variety you choose. Below are a few Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Signature Series mixes to help you make the right choice for planting in early summer:

Early Longtail Milo

Designed to provide excellent winter food and cover for wildlife using a shorter stature grain sorghum mixture. Early Longtail Milo is a grain sorghum mix that produces heavy seed crop in as little as 85 days which allows this food plot mix to be planted in northern climates and shorter growing seasons. The shorter stature of the Early Longtail Milo affords maximum visibility of your bird dogs while working cover and only one 25-pound bag will plant 4-5 acres.

Blizzard Buster

This mix is the 800-pound gorilla of winter food and cover mixes. It includes multiple tall forage sorghums to provide robust winter cover in addition to the many grain sorghum varieties providing quality seed for the birds. This 1-2 combination provides BOTH maximum shelter AND food for game birds facing the brutal winter conditions in the Upper Northwest and Great Lakes states. In northern climates planting near other secure winter cover helps to reduce your bird’s exposure to predators and the elements. A single 25-poound bag plants 4 acres if established via broadcast and 5 acres if drilled.

Winter Shield

The top choice for pheasant and quail food plots across the Great Plains. Designed by our team in Nebraska to be loaded with high-yielding forage and grain sorghums and millets to provide the critical energy needed to ensure your birds thrive in winter’s snow and ice. This mix creates excellent habitat with great thermal value for wildlife. Each 25-pound bag plants 3 acres (broadcast) or 4 to 5 acres (drilled).

To view the full list of available Signature Series Food Plot Blends or place an order that gets shipped right to your door, visit us at PFHabitatStore.com.  Think Habitat!

Michael Retterer is National Rights of Way & Energy Manager for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.