Supplementing the Nutritional Needs of Wildlife
Food plots remain attractive because they can supplement daily nutritional needs of wildlife. Such plots can contain wild or cultivated vegetation, or both. They are designed to serve as a source of food or cover depending on the greater need on a given acreage. Well-managed food plots have the potential to increase numbers of wildlife, quality of health and observability.
Consistently productive food plots require considerable thought and planning before they are ever planted. Prior to planting food plots, inventory the existing natural foods which are available and manage them for maximum production. In many cases, simply fertilizing native vegetation may supply seasonal needs of many wildlife species.
There are several factors to consider when planning food plots. They include location, size and spacing. Food plots should be located on fertile soils with adequate drainage, and near cover. Soil testing is an important factor in having a productive food plot. To determine how to take soil samples and where to send them, consult a county agent.
Plot size and shape may vary according to the type of planting and the intended wildlife use. Plots should be scattered over the entire property if possible. It would be more beneficial to establish ten plots, two acres in size scattered over the entire property than to have one plot which is twenty acres in size.
Depending on the species that one is trying to manage for, plants can vary. Food for white-tailed deer should be made available during all times of the year. This will provide forage during stressful periods of the year such as late winter, early spring and late summer.
Planting a variety of species which will provide food during these stress periods is a common approach. To accomplish this, both warm and cool season plantings should be used. If agricultural crops are being produced in the area, leaving unharvested strips of corn or soybeans near wooded areas will also provide forage.
The size of food plots for white-tailed deer should not be less than one acre in order to provide adequate sunlight. Two to five acre plots work best.
During the cool-seasons, small grains and clovers are the preferred plantings of white-tailed deer. During the warm-season, soybeans are preferred over all other forages. Cool-season plantings include arrow leaf clover, ladino clover, ryegrass, oats and winter peas. Warm-season plantings which work well are soybeans, cowpeas, Alyce clover, corn, brown top millet and Japanese millet.
Many plots intended for white-tailed deer will also provide adequate forage areas for wild turkeys.
When planting food plots, crops should be planted according to prescribed rates and seeding times. Preparing seedbeds properly will increase germination and yield a more productive food plot.
Try different varieties to find which plantings work the best in a given area. When planting large food plots, try combination plantings or try half cool-season and half warm-season plantings. Many of the clovers, small grains, and grasses work very well when planted together.