Better Food Plots Mean Winter Survival (Episode 11 Transcript)
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WOODS: If deer are not in good condition going through these next critical months, February and March, we’re not going to have big antlers next year. It’s just that simple. Stress at this period of the year will result in reduced antler size or reduced fawns or health of the herd next year.
WOODS: What we want to do is think about food sources over the next couple of episodes of GrowingDeer.tv. This is the time of year that will help me have bigger antlers come next August/September at the start of deer season. And you may ask, “Well, there’s a lot between now and next fall. Why are you worried now about next fall?” Because if you come to this late winter period and body condition can decrease rapidly. Significantly. If it decreases too much, when they start producing antlers, fawns or milk for their fawns next year, they're starting in a hole. Ideally, in a good management situation, if we can grow, level off and grow again, you’d be more than pleased with the quality of your deer herd. You won’t be pleased if it grows and then the food resources are so low, it dies way back down and has to play catch up next spring. So, I live on The Proving Grounds here and it’s 90% plus pure hardwoods. There’s nothing to eat. Right now, there’s, of course, no acorns. They're all gone. There’s no browse in an open hardwood forest. There’s no real cover. Loss of heat and lack of calories are two characteristics of an open hardwood forest. It’s fun to hunt but starvation alley for a white-tailed deer.
WOODS: We’ve now got about six inches of snow and it’s very cold. I just want you to look at the hardwoods, you can see the power line going through there. But even in the hardwoods, you can tell how barren it is. There is no food or cover there. Of course, in the summer, that’s all leaf canopy stopping the sunshine from getting to the forest floor. But in the winter, because the sun didn’t make it to the forest floor during the growing season, there’s nothing there to eat either. Now, there may be some acorns that produced and fell in the fall and those are fairly high in carbohydrates, but they're not that digestible. If you don’t have some food plots or some agriculture in the area, it’s very tough to have very many deer or deer that are very health. You can have a few really healthy deer, or you can have a lot of unhealthy deer, but you can’t have a lot of healthy deer unless there’s adequate food resources.
WOODS: It’s a lot warmer in here than it was out in the field. I’m gonna tell you, with that front coming in, deer were feeding hard. We went from no snow cover to about six, eight inches in a day. And that can really happen. Let’s think if our only food source was lip high out there in the field, like some of those clover fields were at this time of year. Deer would be pretty hungry right now and they really need a lot of calories, so they can maintain that good condition through the winter.
Remember, we want our deer gaining, gaining, gaining, gaining in these dormant months at minimum stand level and then gaining again next spring. We don’t want them hitting the dormant months then falling way down in condition and have to make up ground when they should be growing antlers and fawns at that time of year. That’s critical to getting the maximum productivity out of your deer herd.
WOODS: Clover is one of the most popular crops of ours or items planted for deer across the whitetail’s range. And in the spring flush when it’s coming out of the ground and putting on pounds and pounds a day, it’s a tremendous crop. Turkeys love it. Deer eat it. It’s lush. It’s high protein, but in late winter, there’s not much here. It’s about lip high on a white-tailed deer. It’s not starvation alley, but it’s certainly a third world country-type deal. Especially above the Mason-Dixon line. And even in Florida this year, we’ve had low 20 degree temperatures. Clover doesn’t do well at that time. Clover’s a great tool, but let’s talk about when to use it as a tool. If you plant it in the fall, you’re not gonna get any tonnage at all that fall. Next spring, it will really come out of the ground like a rocket. And it will give you maximum tonnage and great quality forage before the soil temperature is warm enough to plant many of the summer forage varieties. That’s when it’s really strongest. In the fall, if we get some rains, you’ll get another big flush of clover and it can be a great attractant during deer season.
But late winter, as we talk about, we want that deer herd increasing or stable in health, not decreasing, simple condition indices, like body weight and other factors I want to measure as a biologist, clover’s gonna let me down. So, here at The Proving Grounds, I’m gonna maintain a maximum of 10 or 15% of my total food plot acreage in clover. It serves a purpose in that early spring green up time and that fall attraction flush. But it’s not my primary way to provide nutrition to my deer herd. Clover is definitely a tool I want in my tool bag when I’m managing deer.
But it has its limitations like all crops. In the late winter, clover’s not providing much food or tonnage per acre. Next week, we’re gonna talk about forage soybeans. They have some real advantages that other crops don’t have. In the summer, they're producing really palatable leaves and tons of forage per acre, especially in a dry season when clover’s not doing too good. Early season, clover is king of the hill. But in the winter, as we’ve just seen, clover’s not producing much, if at all.
Beans produce these pods, especially a good variety of beans and deer love those pods in the winter time. They're full of energy. Beans are about 20% oil. And oil turns into carbohydrates or energy and full of protein. Next week at The Proving Grounds, we’re gonna move even deeper to talking about soybeans.