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WOODS: It’s February 18th and we’re at The Proving Grounds and everything in God’s creation here is happy today. And the reason is, it’s the first day we’ve seen 50 degrees in months, literally. It’s just pleasant and warm. I’ve got my jacket unzipped a little bit. Everything’s happy. Wheat …that we’re standing in a field of winter wheat right now, it’s happy, too, because it can grow at 50 degrees so this week we’re gonna talk about winter wheat as a food plot crop. As a tool in my food plot manager’s tool chest.
Now, winter wheat is a big seed. It’s relatively easy to germinate and easy to sow. You can broadcast it or no-till drill. You can see the lines in my field here, where I’ve used a drill or a planter. It’s easy to plant. It’s easy to mix with legumes or clovers. But, let’s talk about wheat in the late season. Now you plant wheat, typically, depending where you are, late August, September. Maybe way South, in October. And it’s slow out of the gate and it starts growing if you get rain or what not. And it’s real thin, not producing a lot of volume. And then all of a sudden, it starts stooling or kind of spreading out, if you will, and making more volume. But here in the Midwest, we’ve had such a cold winter, that when it hit that stage, it got so cold. You know, teens or twenties every day and every night. It just wasn’t growing. It’s just sitting there dormant. It’s not growing. And not providing much tonnage. So I was doubting myself and saying the beans you see off of my side over here, boy the beans got, you know, two, three four thousand pounds depending on the yield per acre. My wheat’s not doing anything. And you can start doubting yourself as a manager. Should I have put as many acres in wheat as I should have other crops? Because it’s just setting there under snow or cold and not growing. But, when we get to this later February, early March stage in a lot of the areas and we start getting some sun and maybe a day that’s in the 40’s or 50’s every now and then and the wheat will kick in.
WOODS: This is when wheat shines. It’s a great attractant in early hunting season if you fertilize it appropriately. But it really shines as a nutrient after season. Again, if it’s fertilized appropriately, you get these warm days wheat will start producing some tonnage. And that’s what I needed to do. Deer have consumed a lot of my beans by now. I need some tonnage to grow and it’s a great thing to do.
WOODS: Wheat. Again, you can tell deer are utilizing it because wheat grows as a point. New stems always have a point. But anywhere that deer have browsed, it will be flat across the top. As a matter of fact deer, if you recall, don’t have any incisors on their top jaw; just kind of a bony palate if you will, so the bottom incisors come up and hit that with some wheat in their mouth, tear it off and then they ingest it, so, it will be ragged or frazzled on the end if deer are consuming it. If it’s a rabbit or something that has incisors on top and bottom, they will cut it like a surgeon’s knife and it will just be slick and clean. So, you can tell deer are tearing or pulling that wheat off and they’re obviously out here.
There’s piles of scat and, and Tracy, my wife, just found a nice shed off a buck we had a lot of trail camera pictures of about 20 yards behind me last night. That’s why we chose to film in this field today. I, I should have found that, but she got out a day earlier and, and walked it and took my thunder, I guess. But I’m always glad for her to find a shed. So, clearly, that shed and all these piles of scat I’m looking out here, tell me deer are using this wheat field right now. Late winter, wheat can be a strong tool in your chest. Its yield is not as much per acre as some other crops. That’s why I like a combination on my property planted in different things. Not just one crop, or mono-culture of crops, everywhere. That’s never good for deer.
WOODS: Now, wheat is fairly nutritious. Remember, we always evaluate all forages based on four criteria. Productivity – does it produce enough tonnage to merit growth? You can have the greatest plant in the world, but if deer eat it when it’s real small and kill it, it doesn’t do any good. And then, palatability – do they want to consume it? Do they want to eat it? And then: nutritional quality – what’s in there once they consume it? Is it a piece of candy or is there some meat and potatoes to it? And then finally, digestibility – how much goes in here versus how much comes out back here? If it all comes out the back, it’s not doing you any good. Well, wheat scores an average or better than average on most of those criteria. And it depends on how you manage the wheat like all crops. If you don’t fertilize it, productivity and palatability are really gonna suffer. If you fertilize it a lot, then nutritional quality’s pretty good.
WOODS: We talked earlier just a little bit about using a utilization cage in monitoring how much forage is consumed out of your food plot. A utilization cage is simply any barrier that allows, you know, rain and other elements to get into the food inside, but not deer, and then compares that to right outside where deer and other animals are allowed to browse. So you’re just looking at growth, without browse, versus how much you produce and where they are browsed. And the difference is, of course, what the deer and other animals remove. So in this field, of course, we’ve got a cold winter. Wheat has set here dormant most of the winter, not growing. Not actively growing. And when we look inside, I’m probably an average of seven, eight inches tall on the inside and three or four on the outside. So, about half of the yield of this field has been consumed. And that’s important for me to know as a manager. Because if this was really tall on the inside and nothing but dirt outside, I’d have way too many deer for the amount of food plot acres I have. Utilization cages are a great tool, especially on wheat and small grains to determine total growth versus consumption. Without a utilization cage, if I looked at this field, I might say, “Well, gosh it didn’t get fertilized.” Or, “I don’t really know if it produced that much. Was it worth the expense and time to do it?” Utilization cages are a must in all the food plots at The Proving Grounds.
WOODS: Wheat takes about 40 pounds, give or take, usually more, of phosphorous and potassium, P & K per crop. So, if you’re doing the standard food plot ratio of 300 pounds of 10, 10, 10, you’re starving your wheat. And it won’t get enough to transfer. And I want to take a little aside right here and talk about transfer. We need to recall that plants are simply nutrient transfer agents. If those nutrients aren’t in the soil, they can’t be transferred through the plant to the deer herd or us as human consumers. So, we want to fertilize our crops well.
WOODS: If your wheat is well fertilized, when you get these warm days after deer season, you know, February, March, early April, possibly, depending on where you live, this will really flush and deer will readily consume it. And you’ll see scat and antlers and see the deer in there and your trail cameras will tell you they’re really utilizing that crop, so I don’t want all my property in wheat, because it’s not productive when it’s super cold and there’s snow on the ground or frosting all the time. I do want it for those warm spring days, late winter days when most of my other crops are pretty barren.
WOODS: I mentioned earlier that my wife, Tracy, had just picked up a nice shed just right over here about 50 yards from where we are right now. Probably walked all around this and we just picked up this while we were working 20 feet away; didn’t even see it. So, two lessons here. When you’re finding a high quantity, you know, two for two days of sheds in a food source, they definitely prefer that food source at that time of year. So, that gives you a lot of confidence about the wheat fields right now. These are well fertilized. Of course, we use Antler Dirt or composted litter in our wheat fields and it’s just done great for us. And the second thing is: when your deer are producing this good as yearling bucks, especially here at The Proving Grounds, rocky, nasty soil, you feel really good about your food plot program.
So, there’s a lot of lessons here besides the smile. I can hardly contain myself right now of being warm, the suns out. We found a couple of sheds already this year. We’re preparing for our big shed hunt March 13th. We’re going to have a lot of my friends from just hunting buddies in the industry come out, get in lines and walk through The Proving Grounds. We’ll keep you posted on that, but as of now, two for two out of the wheat field and the cameraman’s behind the camera doing this right now, going, “Man, I’m gonna find me one of those things.”
WOODS: I’ve enjoyed a couple of weeks of discussing food with you and how important it is to white-tailed deer herds. I mean, without food, all species are either malnourished or stressed and they’re not producing at their full potential and we want deer to produce at their full potential. Another stress is cover. Especially during the late winter. You know, it’s cold and we’re going into fawning season and nesting season in a few months. Next week we’re gonna talk about cover. Especially late winter cover. Thanks for joining me on GrowingDeer.tv.