Chesapeake Farms® is a showcase for our advanced agriculture and wildlife management practices. A tour of our facilities illustrates these practices in action.
We hope that this web page will help you in two ways: first, to guide you through the Farms and point out and explain many of the agricultural and wildlife management practices being applied here; second, to provide in capsule form, a description of some basic management techniques that you might use in your own work or on your own land.
How to Explore Chesapeake Farms®:
The instructions that follow will direct you along a self-guided tour of the central area of Chesapeake Farms (a word of caution: roads may be in poor condition during the spring thaw or after severe weather, check on road conditions at the office or call (410) 778-8400 before starting).
There are 16 stops on the tour. Each stop is marked by a sign bearing a number (1, 2, etc.). Refer to the matching number in this document for a description of what to see.
At the stops, and along the route between stops, watch for labeled plants and features of special interest. Information about the Sustainable Agriculture Project and other useful brochures can be obtained at the Chesapeake Farms office.
The tour begins at the Farms' main waterfowl rest area across from the headquarters building. Please stay in your car while visiting Chesapeake Farms.
Stop 1 - Waterfowl Rest Area
This pond is Chesapeake Farms' main waterfowl rest area, one of several areas on the Farms where waterfowl are not disturbed. Here you may sit in your car and, during October through early March, observe a variety of migratory waterfowl including up to 10,000 Canada geese and just as many ducks including mallards, pintails, green-wing teal, shovelers and other species.
Because waterfowl concentrate in such large numbers on their wintering grounds, undisturbed rest areas, such as this one which has been in existence since 1940, are essential to good management. Providing a rest area holds waterfowl in the general area, distributes hunting opportunity over the season, and makes the birds readily visible for the enjoyment of hunters, birders, photographers and all other nature lovers.
To reduce the possibility of a waterfowl disease outbreak, this rest pond is drained during the summer months, and then repeatedly disced to aerate the soil.
Make a U-turn and proceed back toward the Main Entrance 0.4 miles.
Stop 2 - Watershed Phase
The watershed phase of a Sustainable Agriculture Project at Chesapeake Farms is located in the fields west of the lane. A diverse private/public partnership including DuPont Agricultural Products, Rodale Institute, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), University of Maryland, University of Delaware, Cornell University, and American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers, are carrying out a major effort to foster the goals of sustainable agriculture. Farmer, industry, and non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies are contributing human and fiscal resources. The mission of the Project is to promote a more sustainable agriculture by means of on-farm research and demonstration of farming systems that are productive, economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable. With the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, four field-scale watersheds are characterized and monitored for the quantity and quality of water discharged from four distinct cash-grain farming systems. The systems represent a continuum of increasing reliance on rotation diversity, in-season management and labor, and decreasing reliance on purchased inputs. A replicated, small-plot experiment east of Chesapeake Farms' office provides accurate data on factors such as yields, soil quality, and pest population responses. Educational opportunities for groups can be arranged by contacting the Sustainable Agriculture Project Manager by phone at (410) 778-0141, by fax at (410) 778-6741, or by e-mail.
Stop 3 - Best Management Practices
All agricultural activities at Chesapeake Farms adhere to Best Management Practices. Thus, nutrient management plans are followed to ensure that the proper amount of fertilizer is added to the soil to produce abundant crops while eliminating nutrient enrichment of the Chesapeake Bay. Pesticides are applied on a prescription basis, i.e., integrated pest management principles are used so that only those crop protection chemicals needed to control pest infestations are applied. For example, corn is treated with DuPont Accent® and Basis® herbicides and soybeans are treated with DuPont Canopy® and Synchrony® STS® herbicides.
As the home farm of DuPont Agricultural Products, Chesapeake Farms provides an opportunity for individuals to experience nature and farming, and how they relate to the land, family and community. In the United States, production agriculture provides the least expensive and safest food supply in the world.
Stop 4 - Hedge Rows
Hedges and fence rows provide travel lanes, food, cover, and nesting sites for many species of wildlife. Quail, song birds, rabbits, deer, raccoons, opossums, and foxes all benefit from hedgerows. Hedges and fencerows also protect the soil from wind and water erosion. Hedges are maintained by plowing, burning, or mowing adjacent to the hedge to keep it from spreading. Control of trees within the hedge is essential to prevent shading out of the desirable hedge plants that require full sun.
The Wildlife Research Project at Chesapeake Farms, which is conducted in cooperation with several universities, has discovered that rabbits prefer dense hedges that are bordered by strips of mowed grass. Songbirds are most plentiful along the edge of woods that are bordered by a hedge.
Continue 0.1 mile.
Stop 5 - Sunflowers
Sunflowers, planted in early May, provide food in the form of seeds for a variety of birds including the gold finch and mourning dove, a popular game species. The vegetative parts of actively growing sunflowers are also a preferred food of white-tailed deer. Deer like the plants so much that they will feed on them to the extent that flowers and seeds will not be produced. Because we plant these sunflowers specifically for birds, we use an electric fence to exclude deer from the sunflower plot. This single-strand electric fence effectively limits access by deer so that the sunflowers can produce plenty of seed for birds. Although the deer could easily jump the fence or crawl under it, the shock they receive on their first encounter with the fence appears to make them avoid the area. Electric fences like these can help farmers protect valuable crops on a small scale and at a reasonable price. You may see this type of fence elsewhere on Chesapeake Farms where we wish to exclude deer from crops planted for research purposes or to provide food for waterfowl in the fall and winter.
If you plant sunflowers for birds, be sure and use one of the small varieties such as perodovic or black oil. In the fall, after the sunflower seeds are eaten, winter wheat or rye is planted to provide food for wintering waterfowl and deer.
Continue 0.1 mile.
Stop 6 - Grassed Waterways
Grassed waterways and grassed filter strips along farm roads and ditches move water gently down slopes and help keep streams, ponds, and duck marshes free of sediments. Mowing or burning on a two to three year rotation controls the invasion of unwanted trees.
Grassed waterways and road sides can provide nesting sites for bluebirds if nesting boxes are provided. Note the nest boxes on the right and in the waterway to your left. If large grassed areas are present, kestrels, our smallest hawk, may be attracted to nest boxes like the one on the utility pole ahead of you on your right.
Continue 0.2 mile.
Stop 7 - Farm Ponds
Farm ponds provide water for livestock and upland and woodland wildlife. In addition they provide habitat for many aquatic species such as fish, frogs and other amphibians, turtles and waterfowl. The wide variety of animal life that is found in wetland habitats attract other species such as ospreys, great blue herons, and raccoons.
The margins of many of our ponds are planted with annual and perennial food plants. In addition to food, these plantings provide nesting cover for many species of birds. One-half of the pond margin is burned or mowed every 2 or 3 years to control the hedge and invading woody plants and to maintain the grassy-weedy nature of the pond margin.
Continue 0.6 miles.
Stop 8 - Deer Food Plantings
On your right is an area where we are experimenting with various crops that can be planted specifically as food for deer. Both the preferences of deer for the plantings and the costs of establishing and maintaining them are being measured. Included in these plantings are several varieties of corn, red clover, ladino clover, alfalfa, hairy vetch and American joint vetch.
Both farmers and hunters have an interest in plantings for deer. Farmers are interested in minimizing crop damage by deer while hunters are interested in maintaining a healthy deer herd. Our research is designed to determine what plantings are cost-effective and are preferred by deer. Farmers will benefit by knowing what deer foods can be planted in fallow fields or along the edge of crop fields to deter deer from feeding on crops grown for market. Hunters will benefit by having knowledge of what is best to plant for the deer herd in the Mid- Atlantic region.
Continue 0.2 miles.
Stop 9 - Waterfowl Feeding Areas
Visible here to the right and left is a series of shallow ponds (depth 1 foot or less) serving as feeding areas for waterfowl. These ponds are drained each summer, plowed and planted to various strains of millet, corn, and/or sorghum. When the grain matures in the fall, the ponds are flooded providing watery duck pastures.
Because they are so shallow, ponds designed for annual drawdown and planting normally require minimal construction. On a relatively level site with suitable soil, such as this one, they are not expensive to create. Note the simple concrete and dropboard structures which permit easy manipulation of water levels.
Before constructing any pond, make sure you comply with all applicable wetlands regulations by consulting with state and federal natural resources agencies in your area. Continue 0.4 mile, turning left at the intersection.
Stop 10 - 40 Acre Marsh
Between this point and the next stop, is a marsh covering some 40 acres to the right of the road. Before flooding in the 1960s, this marsh was similar to the woods on your left. The woods were flooded, and the trees killed by flooding, to create a large body of open marsh for waterfowl and other species that use marsh habitat. Besides serving as wildlife habitat, this area is the water-storage area for flooding the shallow ponds viewed at Stop 8. Note the outlet structure, culvert, and ditch leading to these ponds. The beaver on this marsh do their best to plug this outlet structure, but its special design effectively fools them. The beavers' lodge and food cache can be seen on your right about 100 yards past this stop.
Generally, marshes can be burned every three years to prevent encroachment of hardwoods and promote growth of marsh plants. Marsh plants that have been burned are more nutritious for wildlife and produce more seeds than those that are not burned.
Continue 0.3 mile.
Stop 11 - Nesting Structures
At this point you can see artificial nesting structures for waterfowl, primarily wood ducks. These nest boxes substitute for natural cavities found only in large old trees. Due to extensive logging of old growth forests, wood ducks were pushed to the edge of extinction in the early 1900s. However, nest box programs like the one here and closely regulated hunting have helped make the wood duck the most common nesting duck in the U.S. east of the Mississippi.
Note the metal cone predator guard below the nest box. Predators, primarily raccoons and snakes, destroy about 50% of all nests without such guards.
Many other bird species require a tree cavity for nesting but will accept a man-made substitute. On the tour you have seen nest boxes for bluebirds, tree swallows, and kestrels. The starling and English or house sparrow, both introduced from Europe, have become pests and are aggressive competitors for nest boxes. Ospreys also use artificial structures for nesting, In this marsh, they nest on observation towers built for observing wood duck nesting as part of our Wildlife Research Project. Since the banning of DDT, which limited many bird populations through thinning of egg shells, ospreys have become common throughout coastal areas of the United States. They prefer nesting over water and will readily adapt to a variety of nest structures. Plans for a variety of nesting and roosting structures can be obtained at the Farms' office. Our national symbol, the bald eagle, can be seen regularly at this stop. These majestic birds were once endangered, but are now common enough to be officially listed as threatened rather than endangered. Their recovery is symbolic of the effectiveness of modern wildlife management and man's efforts to provide clean air and water, and to use environmentally safe pesticides. Look for these birds in dead trees both in the marsh and along the back edge of the marsh. Juvenile eagles, which have brown heads and tails rather than the characteristic white, are seen more commonly here than adults.
Continue 0.3 miles.
Stop 12 - Seasonally Flooded Woodland
To the left of the road is a seasonally flooded woodland. This woodland contains many oaks and other nut bearing trees and is managed as a green-tree reservoir. The woods can be flooded during autumn and winter by blocking the natural drainage from the area with a small dike and drop-board structure. This shallow flooding makes the acorns and other mast available to waterfowl especially wood ducks and mallards. Before trees begin actively growing in spring the water is allowed to drain from the area and the trees are not negatively affected by the flooding. Continue 0.2 miles.
Stop 13 - "Odd-Corner" Area
On your left is a demonstration of an upland wildlife management design for small "odd-corner" areas found on most farms. Food, and nesting, loafing and escape cover for rabbits, quail, and songbirds are all provided here by alternating strips of shrubs with mowed and unmowed grass.
The fields to your right are planted to annual rye or winter wheat to provide succulent greens for Canada geese and deer. Also planted is milo which is harvested and sold for use in bird seed. In addition, food patches of clover, corn and millet are planted for mourning dove, quail, turkey deer and seed eating songbirds. Turn around 0.1 mile ahead and return 1 mile to continue tour, turning left at junction with main road.
Stop 14 - Cottontail Rabbit Habitat
On your right is an area that is being managed for cottontail rabbits. Rabbits prefer habitat that provides an interspersion of thick brushy areas that provide escape cover and winter foods and grassy areas that provide nesting cover and spring and summer foods. Other species such as quail, bluebirds and indigo buntings also benefit from this type of management. Prescribed burning, mowing and herbicides are used to keep the area from reverting to woodlands. Typically, each area is mowed or burned every three years and herbicides are used as needed to control undesirable vegetation such as saplings of sweetgum and black locust.
Continue 0.1 mile.
Stop 15 - Woodlots
Our woodlands are managed to provide income, firewood, and wildlife and to be aesthetically pleasing. Woodlots are thinned by herbicide treatment or by cutting for firewood. The trees left are those with the greatest potential for lumber or as food and cover producers for wildlife. Special care is taken to leave trees with cavities and those species that offer food for wildlife. Young stands of pole-sized trees (5-10 inches in diameter) are generally poor wildlife habitat. Their value to wildlife can be increased by thinning to allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor and by erecting nest boxes to substitute for the absence of cavities.
Gypsy moth caterpillars defoliated and killed hundreds of acres of our oak forest in 1983-1986. Where practical, we salvage logged the merchantable trees and used part of the income to replant the cutover areas to pines and hardwoods less susceptible to gypsy moths.
Continue 0.1 mile.
Stop 16 - Windbreaks
Windbreaks of conifers and shrubs prevent soil from blowing, protect buildings, reduce fuel costs, and provide food and shelter for wildlife.
You can create wildlife habitat in your own back yard by planting appropriate trees and shrubs, erecting nesting and roosting structures, and providing bird feeders.
We hope you enjoyed the tour.