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How Much Quail Cover Can You Afford?

Posted Oct. 1, 2005

Much has been written regarding the subject of bobwhite quail habitat management. As you probably know by now, adequate cover, space, food and proper arrangement of these components are essential to developing good bobwhite habitat.

Dr. Dale Rollins' "Softball Throw Rule of Thumb" and Mr. Grant Huggins' "50:50 Model" often are cited as conceptual ways of thinking about how to address the cover component for bobwhite quail. When applied, both of these concepts will yield 5 percent to 20 percent brush coverage on quail range, which is what most biologists agree is the minimum needed for bobwhite quail, assuming it is comprised of woody species that provide suitable structure. Shrubby woody plants provide many benefits for bobwhites: protection from predators, shelter from winter weather, shade in the summer and, in some instances, food.

Quail enthusiasts understand how important it is to manage cover for quail and have little difficulty applying the concepts mentioned above. However, there are land managers who are interested in multiple uses for their land and want to include quail for personal enjoyment or an additional source of income, but have difficulty understanding how these concepts may affect their operations, particularly livestock (cattle) production. In this instance, I submit a visual of the Huggins 50:50 Model (Figure 1).

The figure is drawn to scale, i.e., each grid equals one acre and each motte is 50 feet in diameter. With a quick glance at the figure, what do you think the percentage of brush is on this property? Alarmingly high? The answer is coming up, but, let me tell you, it is difficult for many managers to visualize on their property, especially those with cattle and forage as their primary interest.

Figure 1 is a depiction of 63 acres with little brush cover for quail. By applying the 50:50 Model, the number of 50-foot mottes per acre equals about two. Therefore, using two roughly equal-spaced mottes per acre (except for the one displaced by the pond), the formula for determining the percent brush cover on this property would be:

125 x 1,963.5* = 245,437.5 / 2,744,280** = .0894 x 100 = 8.9%

* 1963.5 is the number of square feet in each 50-foot diameter motte.
** 2,744,280 is the total number of square feet in the 63-acre property.

So, did you guess less than 15 percent? If you did, at first glance you are better than most. I would bet that most would guess 40 percent or higher and think there is no way that will work while trying to produce cattle. The bottom line is that the actual amount of brush is not as much as it appears to be. Also, keep in mind that by using half this number of brush mottes, (1) per acre, results in 4.5 percent brush cover, near the 5 percent minimum that some biologists believe necessary to sustain bobwhite.

Let's look at how this example would affect cattle production, assuming a property 1,000 acres in size with native grasses and forbs good enough to support one cow per 10 acres. That would be 100 head of cows or their equivalent. Now let's suppose that the owner wants to have quail for personal use or as an additional source of income. If we established two 50-foot mottes of brush per acre, we would be devoting 89 acres (1,000 x 8.9% = 89) for quail cover. At a stocking rate of 10 acres per cow, we would displace roughly nine cows or their equivalent. In today's cattle market for cow-calf producers, that would equal about $900 less in net income from the cattle operation (net of about $100/head). Is it worth $900 to develop good quail cover in order to enhance the property for personal use of the quail? How about leasing access to the property for quail hunting? A good quail-hunting lease could easily earn an income of $3 to $6 per acre.

Whichever situation fits, you can do the math.