Forage is a crop grown for an animal; in the food plot business it is a crop grown for white-tailed deer. Twenty years ago, purchasing food plot seed was simple. There was clover and there was — clover. Not so today. There are literally hundreds of whitetail forages out there to choose from. You can make it as easy or difficult as you want — we like the easy.
|Perennials, like clover, stay green early in the spring into the early winter.|
When selecting plants or cultivars for food plots its important to ask, "What do I want my food plots to contribute to the overall property management program?" "Do I want something green to hunt over or do I want something to nourish deer and wildlife all year long?" Once you answer this the rest is easy.
Annuals & Perennials (Mix & Match)
If you're just about attracting deer for fall hunting, more than likely you will be planting an annual forage in the late summer or early fall. Annual plants grow for a few months, mature and then die. On the other hand if you want to attract and care for whitetails all year around you are talking perennial cultivars which last for years and, if properly taken care of, will nourish deer through most of the year. Perennial plots (especially in the north) are generally planted in the spring.
They both provide great nutrition with protein levels in the 25-35 percent range (depending on the season). The average white-tailed deer consumes 6-8 pounds of food per day and feeds about six times per day. An acre of food plot forage can provide 4 tons of high quality forage per year. Good deer forages are highly digestible and a real boon to wildlife.
We generally recommend planting at least 60 percent of a property in perennial forages which leaves the other 40 percent for annuals. If you are just starting out, you may choose to run late season annuals for a year or two but if you are serious about developing a property which holds and nurtures high quality deer, your property should offer high quality nutrition 24-7-365.
We like perennials because they green up early in spring and produce well into the late fall and early winter. That way lactating does and bucks growing antlers will always have something nutritious to feed on. Perennial food plot mixes are generally clover based plots which is just fine with whitetails. Clover is the staple of the food plot industry and shows no signs of weakening. It is relatively easy to grow, easy to digest and very nutritious at 25 percent protein. Clover likes moist conditions and can tolerate "wet feet" to some extent. However, it does not like hot dry temperatures and generally goes dormant at about 85 degrees. Chicory, on the other hand, has a deep tap root and likes it hot and dry. Blending chicory with clover is a very sound approach to perennial food plots. The Whitetail Institute does a very nice job with their clover blends.
|Brassica is a favorite for Northern food plotters, as it's very attractive to deer after a hard frost or cold spell.|
The main objective in planting fall annuals is to attract whitetails to hunting locations. Sure, late summer and early fall plantings feed deer, and some food is better than no food at all, but (especially in poor habitat areas) unless the seeding carries over into winter (like a few acres of brassicas or high sugar oats often will), the deer are getting a free lunch just when they need it least.
All kinds of annuals are available for food plotting hunters to choose from. Grain based annuals like winter wheat, rye and high-sugar oats are easy to grow and will generally stay green well into the winter. Whitetails love the tender young sprouts they put out and stay on them until they reach 8- 12 inches in height. After that, they generally seek other forages (provided there are any around).
Brassicas is an all time favorite of Northern food plotters. Its wide leafy plants are rich in protein (35 percent) and are highly attractive to deer after a hard frost or cold spell. Deer come to them like magnets during the late hunting seasons and unless totally consumed will be used well into winter. They hold up well to snow and provide excellent early winter food.
Seed manufacturers do a big business blending annual mixes for specific purposes. They bag blends for poor soils, and hot dry locations and for folks without any cultivating equipment and just about any need a would-be food plotter would have. Specialty seed mixes vary by manufacturer but it's hard to find a need that hasn't been addressed by someone.
Balance Your Blends
We prefer a mixture of high-protein forages that stay available all year, from early spring through winter. We want to meet the nutritional needs of lactating does, nursing fawns and bucks growing antlers. Clovers, chicories, brassicas and some alfalfas are hard to beat. We only plant name brand forages designed for deer.
These blends grow low and dense, and are low in stem material (except brassicas stalks), or lignin. Their density keeps down competing weeds. They're designed to be grazed, and as such, mature at different times of the year. Use only name brand forages. They have been thoroughly researched and engineered to perform as advertised. They save you huge amounts of money and time and your deer will thrive on them. Bass Pro Shops carries a complete assortment of name brand food plot forages. Make it easy on yourself; buy name brands forages from name brand retailers.
|The author recommends staying away from red clover because deer have trouble digesting it.|
Avoid Cattle Forages
A note of caution: We recommend staying away from cattle forages like some red clovers, tall white ladino clover, and timothy grass. Cattle forages like these are grown to be chopped or baled and fed dry to cows and horses. They are high in coarse stem materials and lignins, which deer do not digest as well as cattle do. They don't stand up well to constant grazing as deer are apt to do.
Cattle forages are often blended and sold at local feed and seed stores at prices 10-15 percent under what brand name seeds sell for. Buyer be ware, they will no doubt grow but you will do much better with blends designed expressly for whitetails. There is nothing simple or easy about developing and blending deer forages, but staying away from cattle forages is an easy way to avoid disappointment.
For more information on making food plotting easy visit www.northcountrywhitetails.com. and be sure to check out the complete line of food plot products at Bass Pro Shops.