The days are getting shorter and cooler, the leaves are starting to turn, the kids are going back to school — fall is definitely in the air. The changing of the seasons means wildlife will be on the move and storing up for winter.
There are steps to take to prevent woodland creatures from adding cover crops to the menu and potentially damaging your soil-building investment, experts say.
One tactic is to select covers that are not favorites of deer, rabbits, voles and other animals. For example, deer like to eat cowpeas and sunn hemp, says Will Moseley, Wildlife and Fisheries Consultant with the Noble Research Institute. But crimson clover, sunflower and chicory are other covers that seemingly aren’t well liked by wildlife, says NRCS soil health specialist Jim Hoorman.
Planting clover, turnips, peas and radish on the edges of fields planted with covers might be another method for luring deer away, according to a 2015 study by South Dakota State University graduate student Troy Wieberg.
Based on information from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE), supporting a more diverse community of predators who eat small mammals like weasels or snakes can be an additional tactic for keeping wildlife out of covers.
Native grass and wildflower strips, edge feathering and other wildlife habitat enhancements are just a few ways to support predator diversity. Raptors and owls can help keep vole populations low, so providing perches and roosts for those birds can encourage them to guard fields of covers.
Hoorman says that perches should be painted a bright color to attract predatory birds. Although coyotes are seen by some farmers as a threat to livestock, they’re quite helpful in serving as a predator to eat mammals that bother cover crops.
Voles are particularly damaging to covers, Hoorman says. Kestrels and foxes also like to hunt voles, so consider attracting those species to help patrol fields, he adds. Erecting nesting boxes around the farm is the best place to start in enticing kestrels to farm fields.
If vole populations reach a point where they’re damaging covers, it’s acceptable to judiciously use poisoned bait or insecticide like Lorsban, according to SARE. Capsaicin is another tool to deter voles, Hoorman says, but be careful to minimize the accidental poisoning of other wildlife.
Getting a good farm dog is another excellent strategy, Hoorman says. Some small breeds like rat terriers, can help control vole populations, Hoorman says.
Cover crops can also be used to lure wildlife away from cash crops. Covers planted for this purpose will still provide all of their typical benefits, but also serve as a deterrent to keep deer and other animals away from corn, wheat or alfalfa.
If wildlife are eating cover crop seed before it can become established, planting green might be a good solution.
Consider working with your local Department of Game, Fish and Parks about their plans to plant covers in state-owned lands or other areas open to public hunting to lure deer away from agricultural fields.
Have you ever experienced wildlife eating your cover crops? How did you deal with it?