The Miracle of Millet
Cheap. Fast. Good. You can only pick two.
It’s a common saying usually connected with products and services, and it applies to duck hunting in a number of ways — boat motors, shotgun shells, dogs and so on.
Except when you are talking about duck food in the form of a cereal grass known as millet.
Ducks love millet, and its popularity as a staple of waterfowl food plots has exploded onto the duck-hunting landscape. Modern farming equipment and early harvests have lessened the amount and heartiness of waste grain, and millet is filling the void at a doable price for many duck clubs.
Depending on the strain of millet, a 50-pound bag retailing for $45 will cover 20-25 acres and requires very little maintenance after germination.
Millet has origins in southeast Asia and has been commonly used as forage food for livestock in the United States for decades. Millet produces a high volume of seeds per plant and has over 40% more protein than seed corn.
Along with the bounty it provides, millet also grows incredibly fast, producing mature seeds within 60 days.
Millet can be mowed during the growing season before seed heads begin to develop. This allows the landowner to plant early enough to take advantage of soil moisture while preventing seeds from maturing and dropping too early. This is a critical benefit, allowing the duck food to be as fresh as possible when the ducks actually arrive, instead of spoiling too soon.
Ducks are looking for easy pickings like rice and millet early, before acorns, but that changes as it gets colder and they look for more hardy forages. Variety in forages brings longevity to the food source for ducks, which ultimately helps keep them around all season.
Millet is a favorite among waterfowlers because of its ability to handle wet conditions. It has a high tolerance for wet and muddy soil while growing and can survive the flooding of a field as long as its leaves remain above water.
The fast-growing grass is also tough, as millet performs fairly well on sandy soils under acidic conditions and when soil moisture and fertility are low. But like any other grain, it will take off when planted in moist, fertile soil.
Leslie Bednar of Cohelms AgServices prefers Golden Millet over Japanese Millet. So much so that Cohelms developed and sells a proprietary strain designed for Arkansas ducks.
“One of the main advantages of our Golden Millet versus regular Japanese Millet is its prolific production rate,” Bednar says. “Golden Millet can provide up to 3,000 pounds of forage from one 50-pound bag. The second benefit is the short growing season. It really gives both farmers and waterfowl enthusiasts a way to plant food sources under any condition.”
Others prefer a mix of millet and other forage food because it covers all bases in case Arkansas has an abnormally wet or abnormally dry growing season.
Ben Wellons of Wellons Real Estate rehabs duck hunting properties and is distributor for various seed companies like Cohelms.
“We are seeing the best results with waterfowl seed mixes that include both Browntop and Japanese Millet,” Wellons says, “but also include other vital forage sources for waterfowl such as milo, sorghum, barnyard grass, wild rice, pink smartweed and others.”
The mix provides a true buffet of beneficial food to wintering ducks and also staggers the availability of food given the variety of maturation timelines.
Matt Chaffin of Chaffin Family Farms had Wellons’ help mulching and cleaning up four acres in a timber break, after which Golden Millet was planted.
“The millet was perfect for the area due to the simplicity of planting and basically no maintenance of the crop after planting,” Chaffin says. “Ducks were a constant in this food plot all season long even when faced with adverse weather and water depths.”
More and more acres of millett are planted in each passing season with the sole purpose of feeding migrating mallards. With so many duck hunting clubs managing farms as food plots for waterfowl, planting millet has almost become essential to holding ducks during the winter months.
Standing corn, uncut rice and — under the right conditions — piles of acorns and invertebrates in the woods create plenty of opportunity for waterfowl once they are in Arkansas. Whether you plant millet in your shooting holes or rest areas, forage food has proven to be effective and relatively affordable for clubs to create wintertime food resources to remain competitive.
Some would even argue millet flood plots are essential.