EQIP/CRP and Other Ideas for Pasture


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My wife and I are closing on our dream homestead in about a month. It's 16 acres in central Illinois. The property is currently used for rotational grazing and haying. We'd like to establish some small livestock operations (starting with chickens and bees, and maybe add some goats or sheep in a few years) but we have no plans for cattle or horses. I'd really like to dedicate most of the space south of the house to wildlife conservation and hunting. We are in an area of mixed ag and timber, there is clear sign of deer traveling on the property, and I witnessed 15-20 deer in the neighbor's yard two houses down at dusk one night. I have two main questions/concerns:

Am I trying to cram 10lbs of manure into a 5lb bag? Most would say 16 acres is extremely tight for a space solely dedicated to hunting, and I want to live, raise animals, raise kids, have an orchard, have a garden, have a shooting range, and hunt on 16 acres. I don't expect to shoot a county record buck but do I have any chance for decent hunting or will I simply have too much of an impact/presence?

Might I expect reasonable government assistance on achieving any of my conservation goals? CRP would be great for the annual income but I don't think hay counts as a farmland crop and pasture certainly doesn't. Anyone have any success stories or tips for establishing prairie or early successional habitat over former pasture? It hasn't been seeded since 2019. I reached out to my local NRCS office to just get some info and they basically told me not to bother them until I have the deed in hand.

We obviously have years of work ahead of us and an overwhelming amount of things to research/learn as we have no farming or land management experience. Any and all advice is welcome, thanks!
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What happened with the 20.5 acres you bought back in July?

Thought about explaining that but I wasn't sure anyone would recall. The survey came back a couple acres short but the seller didn't want to move enough on the price so we chose to walk away. I think it's really worked out for the best in the end.
Congrats on the purchase. We purchased two adjoining 8 acre properties for retirement. About 1/2 is old pasture and 1/2 mature oaks. I've been successful at managing it for decent hunting. There is nothing I'm going to do that will benefit the local herd to any measurable amount on such a small property, but it can be managed to maximizing hunting.

One key is getting rid of the non-native grasses (which pretty much all are in a pasture), While they benefit livestock, they are not beneficial to deer and other wildlife for the most part. I started by spraying with gly in the fall on a couple acres and planted WR and Alberlasting clover on a couple acres. Deer were bedding on a vacant 50 acre over grown, early succession pasture next door. They would come to feed on my plot. It was too open to archery hunt, but I was successful during muzzleloader and firearm season. Someone did buy the 50 acres and has cleared a portion of it, but deer are still moving through it to get to my plot.

My next step is to get rid of fescue and other cool season grasses. I took another couple acres and lightly disked it late summer and then sprayed it in the fall with a combination of Gly and Liberty. I plan to manage this portion in weeds similar to what is shown in this thread: Weed Management Thread

I also plan to plant some ACs in strategic locations to provide some more vertical cover in places.

As for government help, we have not sought any. USDA does have programs you can use. On our pine farm nearby, we have benefited greatly from EQIP, but it is on a larger scale. We have looked at some of the other programs they have like removing some invasive species, planting pollinator mixes, and such. The documentation required was not worth the money to us. So, I have not pursued those at the retirement property. At the pine farm, we have used EQIP to put in firebreaks, conduct prescribed burns, and such.

Best of luck!
U bet, as Yoder says, kill that fescue off right now. Glysophate is very effective on fescue this time of year. You could be amazed at all of the wonderful plants that could be waiting in the seed bank.

As for hunting that south end looks far enough removed from daily disturbance and it looks like a block of woods to the west. Hunting deer coming from the west drawn on to you by a tasty food plot looks to be an ideal and possibly trophy potential hunting spot. Another spot on the north end of the little clearing on the other side of the creek looks awesome too. That's 2 good spots that won't take much work to establish that could provide you with lots of hunting enjoyment. You can't over do it and a lot depends on what your neighbors are up to but it looks to me like a good set up.

One quick clarification, the reason I used Liberty with gly on the one section is because I had some Marestail in that area. Gly does better on the grasses, but Marestail laughs at it.