THE ROLE OF FOOD PLOTS IN WILDLIFE HABITAT MANAGEMENT
THE ROLE OF FOOD PLOTS IN WILDLIFE HABITAT MANAGEMENT (from http://www.plantbiologic.com)
Today’s land stewards and whitetail managers know what an important role food plots play in the drive towards healthy animals and bigger bucks. Food plots can transform deer management, even on small tracts, and make your hunting dreams come true. What’s the big difference between food plots and their native vegetation? Or, why couldn’t supplemental feeding have the same impact? Here’s why. It would depend upon whether you are in a nice plush agricultural belt or whether you were in, let’s say, rough mountainous terrain as to what your native vegetation would yield. On average, native vegetation will produce about 200 to 300 pounds of deer food annually at approximately 6% to 12% protein. However, if they actually consumed that much you would see a browse line about 6 feet high and the habitat would be destroyed. So they can only use about 100 pounds per acre without destroying the area.
An average adult deer will consume 6 pounds of feed per day. 365 days per year x 6 pounds = 2,190 pounds of feed per year. So, one deer can be supported on roughly 22 acres. However, body size, health and antler size are going to be well under their potential because of the poor average protein content of the native vegetation. Biologists agree that deer need about 16% protein to express their potential, especially during fawn rearing and antler growth. There are some that would argue that just dumping “deer corn” or protein pellets out makes everything alright. Corn, only has approximately 8% protein, so native vegetation is much better than corn. The carbohydrates that corn produce do have a place. But even if you are feeding protein pellets at around 20% protein, you still have to consider predation, disease transmission, legality, aesthetics, the amount consumed by non-target animals and the cost. Supplemental feeding is alright to do pending you do it right. But even if you do it right it is shown that no matter what you feed or how you feed it deer will only consume 20% to 25% of their diet from the supplemental feed. So you are not significantly increasing your property’s carrying capacity and you are not making a big impact on their nutritional intake either. You are still well below the 16% biologists say is necessary. There is no way that you can supply the amount or the quality of food that you can for the cost, then by planting food plots. Food plots are going to decrease the average home range size for each deer and in doing so it will significantly increase your property’s carrying capacity! Food plots are going to supply above the necessary 16% protein so your deer will have a chance to express their true health and antler growing potential. Remember we said that they will only consume 20% to 25% of their diet in supplemental feed. It is shown that they will consume approximately 75% to 80% of their diet in food plot crops! It is probably for two reasons, one, because it is more like browsing to them. Deer are naturally browsers. It is unnatural for them to stand at a feeder. Two, because of the quality of the forage. Food plots produce forage that is much more palatable and digestible then corn, protein pellets or native vegetation.
The availability of quality summer forage may be the difference between just surviving and being able to expressing their true genetic potential. Think about the high protein milk that mother doe needs during the spring and summer. Think about the fact that some bucks may loose 30% of their body weight during the rut. The spring and summer is when their playing catch-up. If they don’t have to play catch-up then they can express their true antler growing capability. There are many choices in commodity seeds that we have planted for whitetail over the years. However, be warned that even though they eat the rye grass or dwarf essex rape that you’ve planted for them, it may not be the best thing for them. Many people think that they can solve everything by supplemental feeding. Feeding may be alright for you to do, but regardless of what you feed or how you feed it, even if you do everything perfect, a whitetail will consume no more than 25% of their diet from the supplemental feed. Where a whitetail will consume as much as 80% of their diet from Food Plots! Mossy Oak BioLogic has taken science from the technologically advanced forage producers in New Zealand and brought it here to the United States. The reason New Zealand is superior to us in this area is because of the “almighty dollar.” Two of the top three exports in their country are antler and venison! The New Zealand ranchers want forage that will grow huge bodies and big “bone” as fast as possible. Where for many years here in the US we’ve been cross-breeding and genetically manipulating our plants for particular desirable characteristics for certain end results – for instance, corn to produce ethanol, clover for bovine consumption, etc. The end result has never been geared for the four chambered stomach and the digestive system of a deer. In New Zealand they are 20 years ahead of us in producing forages for deer. The reason – the almighty dollar! Two of their top exports in New Zealand are antler and venison! They have huge deer ranches there and the ranchers want to grow big bodies and big antlers as fast as possible. They are so far ahead of us that you can actually go to college in New Zealand and get a specific degree in “Deer forage production.” Luckily BioLogic brings this technology here to the US for us to use. Not only do BioLogic Blends have off the chart protein and nutrient content, but when a deer consumes them they actually gain benefit from the nutrition. The plants are meant to break down in a whitetails’ digestive system. Take ladino clover and soybeans as an example, 24% and 18% protein… When a whitetail eats those plants it doesn’t mean they gain access to all of that protein. They have different enzymes and bacteria in their stomach and break things down differently. When you feed a whitetail you’re not actually feeding their gut, you’re feeding the bacteria in their gut.
Food plots are not only important towards the health goals that you set, they’re also important to help you with your harvest goals. The use of a harvest plot containing very attractive blends during the hunting season can make it much easier to fill your tags. You may not be able to knock over Pope & Young animals right in the middle of your food plot, you might harvest him 200 yards away. But the food plot was the reason he was coming and the focal point of the hunt. If you do things right, and don’t put a lot of pressure on the spot, you CAN sit on the edge of your food plot and harvest Pope & Young bucks. Aside from helping you to grow healthier deer and bucks with bigger antlers, food plots also make it much easier to harvest animals during the hunting season. Here, the author poses with a nice buck taken from one of his food plots. As said, there is no way that you can supply the amount or the quality of food that you can for the cost, then by planting food plots. Food plots will help your herd health, help your bucks express their true antler growing potential and make your hunting a lot easier.
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