Disking For Wildlife
A general statement can be made that the most productive wildlife habitat is found on properties with diverse vegetation. In the Coastal Prairie and Post Oak Savannah ecoregions of Texas, diverse plant communities result from properly managed habitat "disturbance" or manipulation. The tools for proper habitat manipulation in South Central Texas are flash grazing or rotational grazing, prescribed burning, disking, and brush control. Without disturbance, prairies evolve into dense grass stands and experience brush encroachment, brush stands become thick and impenetrable, and oak timber loses its understory vegetative structure.
Many seed producing plants beneficial to wildlife tend to be annual forbs or weeds. These plants tend to be early successional plants. However, it is not just the seeds of plants that are important. A large part of a deer's diet consists of forbs, particularly when they are young and highly palatable. Because the seeds of these types of plants lay dormant in soil for years, disking can be a very effective tool to germinate seeds. A properly implemented disking program will create "food plots" consisting of native vegetation without buying, planting, or fertilizing any seed.
Habitat manipulation practices should be conducted in stages over time and space. A good rule of thumb for this area is scheduling practices on a three year rotation. In other words, the most a landowner should disturb in any year is one third of the acreage. Remember this includes all the management practices you may be incorporating (prescribed burning, planting commercial food plots, grazing, etc.) since this would further reduce the amount of disking in a year. Additionally, practices such as burning need to be on a three year rotation.
Further, to keep with the diversity theme, it is recommended that you disk strips rather than large areas.
In fact, a landowner can easily merge a disking plan with a burning plan, allowing the disked strips to serve as fire breaks. Finally, it is recommended that the disking of strips be staggered within the year. Disking can be conducted in the late summer/ early fall to promote cool season forbs and throughout the winter into early spring to promote warm season forbs. For example, once a landowner has determined how many acres to disc a year, divide the acreage into cool season and warm season disking projects, and further divide those over a 2 or 3 month period. A landowner could end up with multiple strips, some disked in late August, some in October, some in late January, some in February, and some in March. It is impossible to get too diverse, so the amount of variation created by disking is basically up to the landowner, time, money, equipment, and to a certain extent, weather.
Some things to keep in mind when implementing a disking plan:
1.) Do not disk sloping areas that may cause erosion problems
2.) Be ready to disk—have all your equipment in good working order—and start disking when your plan calls for it.
3.) Disking depth can vary. This creates plant diversity by varying the depth and intensity of disking.
4.) Do not disk if it is too wet
5.) You can lightly fertilize your disked strip.
Disking is just one of the valuable habitat management tools available to landowners. Your local Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist can provide comprehensive technical assistance and management planning tailored to your individual property.
If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at; http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ wildlifebiologist.