ANIMALS

What I’ve learned managing 200 acres of land in Madison County

JP Clark
Oxford Stories
jpclark2@go.olemiss.edu

When I was 12, my father purchased 200 acres in Madison County. He also purchased a tractor to maintain the property and immediately designated the roll of managing the land to me.

Most people do not know everything that is involved with taking care of a piece of property. The list of things to do is neverending.

Think about someone’s backyard. If it has trees, the leaves must be raked. If the yard has grass, it must be mowed. If the yard has a garden, it must be planted and picked.

Many of these duties are similar to what I do on our 200 acres, however, the jobs are larger and require much more planning and effort.

Our land has a unique layout. We have a system of roads that allow us to access any area of the property we wish. These roads are not like a typical city street. Every summer, they must be mowed and maintained or they will grow up in grass, weeds and thickets.

I use the tractor to mow these roads. Keeping the roads accessible is a key aspect to maintaining our land. If we cannot get around, we cannot hunt or enjoy the different areas on our property.

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Studying a growing field of peas. Photo by JP Clark.

We have over 11 fields on our property that I plant twice a year. I plant these fields to feed the wildlife and make our property a better habitat for all animals, especially deer.

In the spring, we plant peas in every field. These peas feed the deer through the summer months when the females are nursing their young, and the males are growing their antlers.

When the end of summer approaches, we replant all the fields with winter grasses to feed the deer during the winter. Winter fields are imperative considering the woods are dormant during the cold months and do not produce enough food to feed the deer.

Planting a field is no small task. Similar to the roads, the fields grow up thick with weeds and native grasses and must be mowed weeks prior to planting. Once the fields are mowed, I break the ground up to prepare to plant the seed.

In order to do this, I use an implement that attaches to the tractor called a disc. When I pull the disc, I make sure to break the ground up as thoroughly as possible. Once I have broken the ground up, I plant the seed.

When planting the seed, I use another implement that attaches to the back of the tractor called a spreader. It is a big cone shaped container that spreads the seed behind me as I drive through the fields.

I have to be very diligent when planting because all seeds have to be applied at a certain rate per acre. I must calculate how many acres I am planting, what I am planting, and how much seed needs to go where based on these calculations.

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Me in a field of peas. Photo by JP Clark.

The planting process has taught me a great deal about the natural world. I have to understand weather patterns in order to maximize my success in growing lush fields of grass and peas.

Growing a healthy field of peas or winter grasses only works if adequate rainfall occurs after the seeds have been planted. I must be very tuned into nature when deciding the right time to plant. If I plant, and it does not rain, all my hard work will be wasted.

In the last two years, I have used the knowledge I gained from working on my property to help other landowners reach management goals on their property. My neighbors who border our property began noticing the work I was doing and hired me to do the same on their land.

Working on another piece of land is both exciting and difficult. In order to do other properties properly, I must perform all the calculations for their fields, and move my tractor and implements to their land.

I have enjoyed working on other properties because every scenario is different. It is a new challenge every time because I learn to familiarize myself with their land the same way I have with mine. This helps me to learn more about my land by comparing and contrasting the characteristics of other properties. In doing this I have learned about different soil types, different types of trees, and different strategies for planting.

Managing land has been a true blessing in my life. It has allowed me to connect myself to the outdoors in a way that provides knowledge many people will never obtain.

I understand how farmers grow the food we eat. I understand how the counties, states, and federal government maintain natural parks, highways, and wildlife reservations, and future generations to come.

I have also learned a lot about the way our seasons change and affect our natural surroundings. I love being outside as much as possible.  Managing land allows me to be outside, but also benefits the natural world for myself, other landowners.

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