Managing Ground Cover In Game Bird Pens

Published On: October 31, 2019Categories: Flight Pens

The main purpose of the time and money put into flight pens is to keep game birds in and predators out. It sounds very simple, but in addition to building the pens, the process isn’t complete until you learn how to manage the ground cover that must be provided in the flight pens.

Cover is Important When Raising Game Birds

– Shelter for birds to get out of harsh weather

– Provides shade

– Gives birds something to pick at

– Reduces eye contact between birds

– Gives birds a place to escape from one another

Ideally, cover should be lamb’s quarter, corn, or milo. Ragweed is not a good plant for pens. It grows too tall and can grow through the netting and poke holes. It is important for the cover to be low to the ground. Pheasants also need some open spaces in the pens. Generally, we mow some open spaces, including paths down the middle of the pens. We spray around the perimeter to keep weeds down so plants don’t go through the top net, near division fences, where it can push enough on the top net to make holes and pop rings, causing significant damage.

Weather is a Huge Variable:

– If it’s too cold, cover doesn’t grow. Soil temps need to be high enough to get the plantings to germinate.

– When it is too wet you can’t get into the pens to work on cover management. When it is hot and humid, cover grows very fast and undesirable species can spring up overnight.

Managing Ground Cover

– If you don’t stay on top of ground cover issues in spring and early summer, cover can be out of control before you know it.

– Broad leaves, ragweed, velvet leaf and even lamb’s quarter and grass can ruin a pen planted with corn or milo. The undesirable plants can choke out desired plantings.

– It might become necessary to do chemical spraying, at this point, because otherwise, you end up with a messy mix that is a constant struggle to protect top nets from damage.

– Decisions about how to handle out of control weeds is based on how soon the pens are needed to house birds.

– At times, if pens get out of control with undesirable weeds, and you have enough time for a planting to grow tall enough before the pen is needed, you might mow it off and till up the ground to replant. If you don’t have enough time you will manage what you have by mowing off the tops of the undesirable cover to keep it out of the top net and still provide cover for the birds. If weeds get to the top net right on the division fence, manual labor with machetes and hedge trimmers are the only way to combat the problem.

It’s a delicate balance to protect our birds in the outside pens, where they live during the winter months, before they are sold. If you would like to discuss ground cover, further, you can email Brian Davis @

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