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Clover Food Plots (Episode 30 Transcript)

This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.

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WOODS: Good morning.  It’s June 11th, my birthday this morning, so we’re up early getting some work done.  I’m 49 years old and I’m really enjoying life, about as much as these food plot crops, because we’ve had just a great spring here in the Ozarks.  We did not have a late frost.  We’ve had adequate rain, but not too much.  Uh, temperatures have been great and growing conditions have been wonderful.  Of course, except for the wireworms and cutworms we’ve experienced here at The Proving Grounds.  I’m right on the edge of a soybean plot and a clover plot and both of them are great tools in the deer manager’s tool bag.  So, let’s talk about each one a little bit.

WOODS: This morning, we’re going to start off talking about clover.  But just a little comparison.  Here’s a big clover stem and people say, “Well, that’s great.  That’s a lot of tonnage.”  And here’s a real young soybean plant.  Of course, deer just want to eat the leaf matter.  That’s really the digestible part where the nutrients are.  Not the stem.  So if we look at this plant; one seed, this plant one seed; there’s no comparison of the amount of tonnage coming off here.  Now that doesn’t mean clover is bad because clover is very cold hardy and it’s growing early in the spring before you can even plant soybeans and in the winter, after soybeans are done.  So, clover is a valid tool, but it’s usually not near as much acreage on properties I manage as soybean plots.  But, if I’ve got a small acreage property or the areas where I can only get smaller size plots, clover is my “go to”, because of course, deer will wipe out soybeans rapidly.  Clover can be browsed and come back and browse and come back.  You bite off the top of a soybean plant at this stage and it has a hard time developing, so both of them are valid crops, different missions and let’s discuss them both this morning.

WOODS: This is a three year-old clover stand and you wouldn’t have recognized it a month ago because there were broadleaf weeds and, and grass waist high, just clumped all through it.  Brad simply came out here with Arrow herbicide, that’s a grass selective herbicide.  It kills grass species but doesn’t kill non-grass species, like clover or this young ragweed you see.  It’s grass specific.  Brad walked around on a pretty windy day, spraying the grass spots and, and it doesn’t matter because it’s windy because if it blew over on the clover, it wasn’t gonna hurt it.  Where if we’d have used Glyphosate (roundup), it would have killed the grass and other stuff around it.  So, took out the grass and we mowed it a week or so ago, and took out most of the broadleaf weeds.  I’m going to say 90%.  There’s a few young ragweeds in here that were short enough that the mower went right over.  They're gonna come on up, but not a big problem.  And actually, young ragweed is pretty good deer browse.  So we’ve got a three year-old clover stand that looks great.

WOODS: Clover is a great tool in my deer management tool bag and there are two applications where I really like clover.  I like it anywhere North to South, real early in the spring, way before it’s planting season.  You know, as soon as the temperatures are getting up in the 40’s, 50’s or so, clover’s gonna jump up and start producing and give that green forage when deer really need it and it’s way too cool yet to plant annual forage crops.  So, established clover is really strong then.  It’s really strong in the fall when it’s starting to get cooler, or maybe the first little light frost or two, clover’s still growing and everything else has turned brown.

Clover is very browse tolerant.  Pretty good nutrition.  It can be very good if you fertilize it appropriately.  A lot of people starve clover because it’s green, it’s out there, “Oh I don’t need to spend fertilizer”, but clover takes a lot of fertilizer to be very productive.  And it’s a great tool for those little small food plots or lease properties or areas where you just can't grow soybeans.  Clover is a great tool.  I like to keep my clover five, six, seven years.  I typically do that and I do that by making sure it doesn’t starve.  I make sure it has great nutrients.

WOODS: You know, all these white seed heads are beautiful in a clover field, but deer don’t really consume them too readily.  Now, they're pretty high in phosphorous but they're not something deer really consume.  So, we’ve mowed this once and you can see a lot of seed heads coming out and some of them are starting to dry off a little bit.  And yes, if we leave it and don’t mow it, and, it takes a long time for clover seed to really dry.  They'll  produce viable seed and we’ll get a fresh germination or a fresh crop of clover coming in here, so people always ask me, “How often should I mow my clover?”  And it’s not a magic number of one or two or three times a year.  If my clover’s going really lush, producing more tonnage than the deer consume, I’ll mow it, because I’ll take these big, mature stems, set them back where there’s plenty of moisture to grow and have a new flush of lush forage which is much more attractive and nutritious to the deer herd.  But once I predict we’re gonna get hot and dry, I want, you know, 50, 60 percent seed head coverage out there.  I don’t want to mow my crop when it’s really dry.  That’s just adding stress to an already stressed crop.  If the crop is experiencing drought stress, and you mow it, that’s additional stress.  It’s trying to recover.  And you may kill your crop.  So, if it’s growing lush and raining a lot, mow.  Even if it’s raining a lot in July, mow.  Once it starts getting dry or you think it’s gonna get dry, leave your clover alone.  The worst case scenario, it will mature out, make seed heads, deposit those seed heads before you start getting the fall rains and refurbish your clover stand.  So, 40, 50 percent bloom; a lot of rain; I’m ready to mow, get lush new growth out there, which is more palatable and more nutritious for my deer herd.  Dry conditions, no matter what the seed head quantity, I’m not mowing because I don’t want to stress my clover stand.  I think that’s one of the secrets along with keeping fertilizer out every year or twice a year, is how I get stands to last so long.  I’ve had clover stands last 10, 11 years.  That’s a real economic savings.

WOODS: This is a very small, about 30 yard by 30 yard clover food plot, just about 200 yards from where we just filmed.  And you can see a dramatic difference.  Same rain, you know, this clover’s about the same age.  Everything’s the same, except we’ve put maintenance on that.  We haven’t maintained this at all.  And look at the difference.  Boy, there’s Johnsongrass and fescue and all kinds of ragweed and polk and mullen.  We’ll talk about mullen in a second and give you a little hint.  All kinds of stuff in here that’s competing for the more nutritious clover.  And the problem is, we haven’t sprayed this to take the grass out.  We haven’t mowed it to take the, the big, bulk weeds out.  And that’s a problem.  And if we don’t touch this plot pretty soon, we’re gonna lose it.  I’m seeing bare areas now where the clover’s been out competed and it’s just weeds, or competing food sources that are competing for the nutrients in the ground, but the deer aren’t gonna consume them.  Deer do not consume Johnsongrass.  It’s just a bad, bad competitor that makes a ton of seeds and also spreads by rhizomes or the underground root system.  So, the only difference is maintenance and no maintenance.  Our point here is, even if you’ve got these little “Hidey Hole” food plots, you’ve got to maintain them, especially through the summer.  Weed pressure in the summer is much greater than in the fall.  And we’re almost too late.  We just have simply been too busy or maybe I was turkey hunting too much and we did not maintain this plot and it’s gonna cost us more now to maintain it than if we’d done some simple maintenance early on.

WOODS: This plant is called mullen and it’s not deer food.  Deer don’t consume mullen that I know.  And it had grown up and have a bunch of yellow flowers and produce a bunch of seeds, weed seeds, so I don’t like it for that reason.  But, I do always pay attention to mullen because I’ve been a field biologist for 30+ years and you know, working out in the Nevada, Western Kansas, wherever, and some mornings, maybe got a little bit of an upset tummy.  And you didn’t take your toilet paper and the reason I know mullen, because especially out west.  Most plants have stickers on them or they're really rough, but mullen is also nicknamed “Charmin of the Plains.”  It’s a pretty tough leaf, it won’t break apart real easy and it’s very soft.  When you're out there in the middle of the prickly pear cactus and that urge comes on you, “Charmin of the Plains” can be your best friend.

WOODS: Brad and I were filming this little “Hidey Hole” food plot about 30, 30 yards in clover and we hadn’t had time to take care of the weeds, and showing the difference between a maintained clover plot, and an un-maintained.  Turkeys gobbling all over.  And it’s June 11th, so that’s really a bad thing.  You know, turkeys continue gobbling late in the year if the hens didn’t nest or the nest got destroyed by predators the first time and they are re-nesting.  They're trying to nest again and I’m glad the hens want to nest again, so we got a chance of getting some poults off.  Oh, my goodness, that turkey’s about to kill me!  But, but it’s sad that they're spending all that energy.  I want you to think about a hen producing…you know, five, ten, fifteen eggs; a predator consuming all those eggs and she has to do all that again.  And then, when she sits on this, she’s, of course, exposing herself to predation and being killed, actually reducing the adult population.  So, we’re hearing way too much gobbling and seeing way too much strutting on our trail camera images here in June for me to be comfortable.  I’ve trapped the maximum allowed in legal trapping season.  You’ve seen that on here and removing about 50 predators a year off 1500 acres for four years in a row.  50+ predators!  Obviously, I need a little help.  We need some expanded seasons.  And the most effective time to trap, if you're trying to work with prey species; if you're trying to protect prey species is during the nesting season, now.  And same thing with fawns.  So, I’m asking you all to consider:  if predators are a problem on your property and do we need to, maybe visit with our state agencies and, and ask for a change of vision here.  You know, in the old days fur prices were high and there were a lot of trappers doing this work for society and they were getting paid for it by, by selling the fur.  But fuel prices are high; steel’s high; traps are high; and fur prices are very low.  And trapper numbers are dropping drastically.  Only us old curmudgeons are out here trapping still.  So, with that double whammy happening, predator control is a realistic biological concern.

WOODS: Brad and I were just standing here listening to these turkeys gobbling, enjoying the gobble, but thinking about why they're gobbling.  Of course nest predation, other stuff going on, and we were thinking about the whole scheme.  Kind of a holistic approach and I was thinking, you know, some guys from church and I, we cut, split and stack this wood last winter.  It was cold and miserable, but you do it in the winter so it will dry all summer and have the moisture out and that way it will actually burn more efficiently in your fireplace and cleaner.  You won’t have  near as much pollution and creosote in your fireplace.  Less chance of chimney fires.  By doing the work ahead of time, this wood will take care of you this winter.  The same’s kind of true about maintaining your food plots.  You know, if you do the work now during the summer growing season; you provide good quality forage, nutritious forage, keep the weeds out.  Taking care of those food plots in a non hunting season is the right thing to do for this coming season.  And those big antlers will make you very warm in your stand this year.

WOODS: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.tv.