Forage Management for White-Tailed Deer

Ag Biz News Column
By: Chad Gulley
County Extension Agent–Ag/NR
Smith County

Supplemental Forage Management for Whitetail-Deer

Landowners that are interested in managing their property for whitetail-deer have options when it comes to supplemental forage management.  A well planned food plot can increase forage availability and can also help compensate for decreases in suitable deer habitat.

First, we need to determine what deer eat.  Whitetail-deer primarily rely on forbs, fruits, acorns, some mushrooms, and browse (leaves and twigs of woody plants) as their primary diet.  Being a ruminant animal, they will also consume grasses but this makes up a small portion of the overall diet.

East Texas is comprised of two major ecological regions—the northern part of the Post Oak Savannah and the Pineywoods.   The Post Oak Savannah lies northeast to southwest between the Blackland Prairie of central Texas and the Pineywoods in eastern Texas.  Soils in eastern Texas are typically acidic.  Rainfall amounts vary from 35 inches to upward of 55 inches of rainfall annually.

Second, the landowner will need to perform a soil test.  A soil test will give the landowner much needed information on lime requirements and fertility.  Poor yields and excessive weed competition can result if soil requirements are not managed.  Lime and fertilize your forage according to the soil test recommendations.  The pH of the soil plays an important role in how well various forage varieties will produce in East Texas.  Give yourself time to change pH as needed to obtain the desired results from your forage variety needs.

Third, the landowner will need to plan what variety of forage to plant for their whitetail-deer.  Some options include combination plantings of rye, ryegrass, oats, wheat, Arrowleaf clover, sweet clover, Subterranean clover, and cowpeas to name a few.  Decisions on which varieties to plant will vary from landowner and how they plan to manage their property.  Are you planting a cool season food plot or a warm season food plot?  This is another decision that will need to be determined in this process.

The size of the food plot and location of the food plot also come into play.  Most food plots for whitetail-deer are 0.5 to 3 acres in size.  Deer tend to feed along the edges of plots than the center and in many cases several smaller plots work better than one large food plot.  A good rule of thumb is to plant 1 to 3 percent of the total habitat.  In other words, 1 to 3 acres of food plot for every 100 acres of habitat.

There is no one forage species that can satisfy all the nutritional requirements of the whitetail-deer population throughout the year.  If possible, remove livestock from areas where you plan to plant food plots.  The livestock can compete with the whitetail-deer for the forage.

Planting depth and amount to plant are important as each variety will have different requirements.  Seeding rates may vary from a few pounds to over 70 pounds per acre depending on the species.  Planting depth will vary from ¼ of an inch deep to 1 inch deep in some cases.  One of the most limiting factors on food plot development in the past few years is moisture.  Bottomland soils usually work well for food plot development as they tend to retain moisture during summer months.

Information on supplemental forage management for East Texas whitetailed-deer comes from information from Dr. Billy Higginbotham, Texas AgriLife Extension Professor and Wildlife/Fisheries Specialist.

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