Have you ever wondered why deer or cattle tend to favor certain patches of forage over others?
Unlike humans, animals can taste the difference between nutritious forage and run-of-the-mill forage. The nutrition of the forage is enhanced when grown on soil with proper pH and balanced soil amendments (fertilizer, lime and trace minerals). Finish up with a well balanced variety of plants that deer love and you will have a successful deer food plot.
1) Get a soil test on your deer food plot
First, take a representative soil sample of your wildlife food plot. Do NOT skip this step. Soil testing is simple & inexpensive. If you don’t know the condition of your soil before you start, your ground prep and planting may simply amount to wasteful “shooting in the dark.” Check out this short Extension Service video to see how easy it is to test the soil in deer food plots:
By testing, you will KNOW what your soil needs and you can take steps to correct any deficiencies. Simply follow the lab’s recommendations.
2) Amend food plot as needed with fertilizer and minerals
Your soil test will tell you exactly what's needed to get your deer food plot in tip-top shape. Something to remember is that you don't have to correct EVERYTHING the first year. Think of your food plot as a multi-year project. Do what you can, paying special attention to the re-mineralization of your soil by amending with lime and trace minerals.
Why is organic fertilizer actually better than 13-13-13 over time? Unlike synthetic fertilizers, organics actually build up the soil so you need less fertilizer over time. Consider using a natural, organic fertilizer like MightyGrow Living Organic Fertilizer with Trace Minerals. If you need additional N-P-K to start off, mix a reduced amount of synthetic 13-13-13 WITH your organic fertilizer. The synthetic fertilizer will be instantly available for young growth and the slower released nutrients of the organic fertilizer will keep on supporting your plants when they need it most—-when they are being hammered by hungry deer!
3) Plant a variety of tasty forage in deer food plots
Finally, once you have your soil amended, it is time to plant. Have you ever noticed that nature abhors a monoculture? This modern agricultural practice of growing a single crop over a wide area is unnatural! Walk out into a wild, undisturbed field and try to count the number of plants in a small area. Mimic nature by giving your deer a variety of choices. Good southeastern forage crops include the following:
Sorghum or milo - Grain sorghum (often called milo) is an effective food source for deer. It is a resilient plant that competes well with weeds, while still producing heads. It grows well even during fairly dry summers.
Winter Wheat, Rye, Oats - Winter wheat, rye or triticale are common in southern deer food plots where heavy deer densities and dry summer conditions make other fall and winter food sources less dependable. A typical combination is winter grains with a small amount of clover. Winter grains are planted in the fall and with sufficient moisture will grow fast, ready for grazing within a few weeks of planting. They also stay green well into the winter and are very resistant to frost.
Clover - Clover is probably the most universal deer plot food. It is easy to establish, but usually must be replanted every 2-3 years depending on variety.
Brassica Family –Brassicas provide great late-season forage. Deer will generally leave them alone until colder weather when the plot will become very attractive. Three types are recommended:
Purple Top (forage turnips) - Deer love turnips and will eat the leaves and the tubers later in the season. Typically, turnips are recommended for areas with high deer densities. They tend to let turnips (and other brassicas) survive until the first hard freeze when a molecular change in the plant makes the leaves more tasty.
Dwarf Essex Rape – This Brassica has big, broccoli-like leaves. Deer will feed heavily on them after the first hard freeze and into the winter.
Tyfon (forage brassica) - Cattle growers commonly use Tyfon because of its high yield and high protein content.
Austrian Winter Pea – This tasty legume grows throughout the winter and is a favorite of whitetails. Winter peas grow fast and will attract deer soon after germination. They attract deer and turkey and provide protein-rich, high-quality forage during the fall and winter.
If you follow these three steps to manage your food plots this fall, you will get the attention of local wildlife. Our deer population is a shared resource—one that all hunters should regard as priceless. Let’s work to provide as much good quality forage as possible, looking beyond the season directly in front of us to ensure generations of healthy, abundant game. Happy hunting and good luck!