DEER MANAGEMENT FOOD PLOTS
After you have succeeded in establishing your premium food plots with hand held equipment (see article following) which is used primarily as an attractant you may be encouraged to expand your plantings into larger areas or for a year-round nutritious food source. You can still accomplish this without investing a large amount of money into farm type power equipment. In a single season, I have sprayed, fertilized, and broadcast seed into 3 acres with hand held equipment. I am now getting long in the tooth and depend more on my farm equipment for my food plots. I still hand plant and maintain a few prime bow sites. Using your ATV or a small tractor you can with minimal additional equipment investment plant a very large variety of seed into multiple acre food plots.
We have planted successfully in one-season 10-acres using an ATV. I used a 1986 350 4-wheel drive Honda. Equipment included an ATV 12-volt fertilizer and seed spreader, cost is $230.00; A 12-volt 1.2 gallon per minute pump with 14 gallon capacity tank, cost is $125.00; and a 1910 single gang horse drawn wooden bearing 7-foot wide disk, cost free. In addition, a hand made spray boom using 2-inch square tubing for the main frame, which fits into the ATV spreader bracket, was used. Welded onto this 2-inch square tubing is a horizontal 1-inch square tubing 5-foot wide spray boom. (4) Brass number 80015 flat spray nozzles spaced 20-inches apart and positioned 24-inches above the ground will spray a 6-foot swath. You can add ĺ-inch square tubing 44-inch long extensions, which slips into the 1-inch tubing 4-inches on both sides. Each extension has 2 nozzles for more open areas. This 14-gallon tank of water with 1-quart of Round Up and 1-quart of spray-able ammonium sulfate should spray 1-acre in less than 15 minutes using the wider boom. How easy can it get? Add 1 old cultipacker to get good seed soil contact if disking in your fertilizer and seed and your fun tools are complete.
Some of the plantings were done in spring, which will give the best germination and emergence. The disk is used primarily for large seeds, summer seeding, and lighter soils. Remember you sprayed three times last year, the seedbed is ideal for early spring frost seeding and disking will bring up new weed seeds, but as we shall see disking can have an important function. If the spring is exceptionally dry or you are planting in light soil you may decide to improve the germination success rate by disking after broadcasting the fertilizer and seed. This is a light disk and it wonít penetrate sod. Heavy soil, even if bare, may not be tilled effectively with a light disk. All the more reason to spray the previous year and broadcast your seed in early spring.
The following are the seed types, planting times, and methods we used to plant 10-acres with an ATV. Through the ATV spreader, we broadcast 4 tons (8000 lbs.) of a variety of packaged fertilizers. 4000 lbs. applied to the 10-acres and the rest broadcast throughout the oaks wild apple trees, and 7-acres of corn. A little perspective may be needed here. I normally use my 85 h.p. enclosed cab with heater, air conditioned with radio 4-wheel drive John Deere model 6400 tractor pulling a 5-ton fertilizer spreader. Itís called recreation farming. Yes, I actually opened 160, 50lb. Bags of fertilizer and broadcast it all through the ATV spreader. Fertilizer, especially Urea (46% nitrogen) tends to clump over time. Check it when you buy it. Try to buy it in plastic bags and buy only what you intend to use in the near future. The ATV spreader does not have an agitator. The spreader does not appear any worse for the wear. Fertilizer is very corrosive, so I advise you to clean and lubricate the moving parts after each use and wash down the Quad. If you have a small tractor with a three point hitch you can use with great ease a funnel type power take off driven fertilizer and seed spreader that has an agitator. A 500lb. capacity is adequate.
All perennial legumes (clover, birdsfoot trefoil, and alfalfa) were given 400lbs. of 7-27-27 per acre. Corn was given 400lbs. of 32-12-12 per acre or 250lbs. of 19-19-19 and 175lbs. Urea. Brassicas (Turnips, Rape, and Canola) were given 300lbs. of 26-12-12 or (200lbs. of 19-19-19 and 75lbs. Urea) per acre. All grain (Rye, Oats, and Wheat) was given 200lbs. of 26-12-12). These food plots are accessible to commercial self-propelled lime spreaders. The pH is monitored and lime is broadcast to maintain a minimum of 6.3 pH. My average pH is 6.7.
I do not know of a single plant type that provides all the necessary nutrients and is available for the deer year-round. I do know that deer prefer and need a wide variety of plants. A forage mix, not only is necessary for nutrient requirements, it aids in digestion. Something like white wine and fish, pork and beans, and my favorite sauerkraut and kielbasa. I believe it is most important to carry deer through its most stressful period. In the North, it is the winter and early spring seasons. Therefore, certain plant types should be available for the deerís high energy needs.
Starting in mid-March the deerís nutrient needs shift toward a high protein diet. The bucks start to grow antlers and the pregnant does accelerate the growth of their unborn fawns. "Well begun is half done". For this seasonal period, I prefer to plant corn and let it stand along with giving the deer a choice of high protein. My protein choice is a variety of brassicas and late summer planted grains. These plants are palatable, highly digestible, and stay green under the snow all winter long. In the mild winter of 2000, I dusted off some snow on an upright Rape plant on January 16th. I observed a new green leaf about the size and shape of a birch leaf. I touched it, and then pulled it off. I believe it was alive and growing. Come spring green up the Rye and Wheat are great forage for the deer. Perennial legumes, which should be your base, also are available for the deer during this time.
In this 10-acre demonstration, we planted the following: 2 Ĺ-acres of perennial legumes, 1-acre of soybeans, 1-acre of turnips, 1-acre of Rye, 1-acre of Wheat, and 3 Ĺ-acres of Rape, Kale, & Canola. I could have planted corn with the quad, but I chose the recreation farming method. I normally plant in several areas a total of 30-acres of it yearly and it would be a bit much. This 10-acre quad planting was in 2 locations. One is my farm home base in Gladwin and Clare County in fairly rich loam soil and the other in northeast lower peninsula Alcona county club country. This Alcona county area has never been farmed and is poor light loamy sand. In the Alcona county plantings, I worked with Mr. Bob Collins who has been experimenting with a variety of food plots for at least 15 years. He has a Polaris 500 quad using similar equipment, including a single gang ancient disk. This disk has weights added and does quite well in Bobís light soil. There doesnít seem to be any stress on his or my quad pulling these disks.
One acre of legumes (3 clovers, birdsfoot trefoil, and dwarf essex rape mix) was broadcast in Clare County on March 23rd. It was sprayed the previous year 3 times with Round Up and Ammonium Sulfate. 200lbs. fertilizer (19-19-19) was applied March 23rd and again on August 1st. It was mowed August 1st. I intend to maintain it with a 7-27-27-fertilizer program and mow it twice a year (June 1st and August 1st). One could not ask for a better weed free highly productive food plot. The Dwarf Essex Rape is an annual and is well liked and it aids as a nurse crop to the perennial legume. I used 3lbs. of rape.
In Alcona County, we tried a different tack. Our past experiences in this light soil warned us about summer seeding by broadcasting only, (Poor Emergence). For our 1 Ĺ-acre legume plantings we tried 3 methods. In one Ĺ-acre area where we had sprayed the previous year twice and broadcast a legume mix in early August with poor results, we broadcast the same legume and Dwarf Essex Rape mix as in Clare County on April 1st. 100lbs. of fertilizer (16-16-16) was applied, and again on July 29th. The spring planting results were much improved versus the previous years' August broadcasting. In another area, we split an existing legume clover mix food plot that was planted conventionally the previous year in late June that wasnít doing very well. Both halves were fertilized and seeded on April 1st as above. One half was disked and the other wasnít. The results were different. In the disked area, the plant emergence and growth was decidedly better than in any of the 3 plots. However in this disked plot, there was also more foreign weeds and grass, (see photo). This is not necessarily all bad. Deer eat most broad-leafed weeds. The undisked half did fairly well with many of the newly broadcast seeds emerging. The deer were constantly in these 3 plots with the disked one preferred. They were seen through late November.
In Clare County, we planted the 1-acre of soys on July 29th with 200lbs. of 7-27-27. This late planting is intentional. We are looking for very high protein forage as an attractant during the early bow season. Unfortunately, we had a killing frost in late September. I have farmed for many years and know from experience that soybean is the preferred food of deer. This preference for soys lasts throughout the year even when it looks like there is nothing left during the winter in the soy stubble. In this soy planting we sprayed twice the previous year and twice more prior to July 29th. We broadcast the fertilizer and 100lbs. of Round-Up ready soybeans. This soil is fairly heavy loam and the light disk didnít penetrate well even without sod. I took several passes until I felt enough soys were covered. It turned out excellent. Round-Up ready soybeans is a special hybrid where the weeds can be controlled by spraying Round Up and not harming the soys. It is more expensive, but I prefer it because it is easy and the Round Up is not toxic to animals. I do not use any herbicide that has a warning label that states, "Do not let animals graze for 30 days after spraying". There is also a corn hybrid that is Round-Up ready. Corn can be planted the same as soy. Too much seed is not good for corn. Broadcast no more than 20lbs. of hybrid corn seed per acre, and work it in well with the disk. I repeat no more than 20lbs. per acre if you want ears of corn to grow. For normal planting time of soys, plant after May 15th to June 1st. For normal planting time of corn, plant after May 1st to June 1st and plant a short growing season variety. Check with your farm seed store for recommendations.
The 1-acre of turnips was planted in Clare County on August 5th. Turnips are easy to grow and have a short growing season. They can be planted as early as late June or as late as early September. They prefer medium soil, but will grow in lighter ones. This food plot was not previously sprayed with Round Up. It was prepared by disking with my farm equipment. Fertilizer and 6lbs. of seed was broadcast with the quad and light disk. No other operation is needed. Donít worry about the weeds. They actually help by shading the turnips in the early stage and the turnips hold their own later on. We planted 3 plant types. 2lbs. each of Purple Top, Dynamo, and Samson. I could not tell the difference in growth or deer preference. I have been told to try Golden Globe. Why plant turnips? Turnips are a brassica and are not very site selective. They grow best in medium fertile loam, but will grow in a sand hill and in slightly acid soil, 5.5 pH. They have a very balanced nutrition value with a protein level of 11%. Deer tend to leave them alone until a heavy frost hits. I have grown up to 3 acres for 4 years and have never had deer go after them any earlier than mid-December. This is not everyoneís experience. Perhaps the quantity and assortment we offer makes it so. However, when the deer learn to like them, and this is true of all brassicas it looks like a war zone. Due to the weed shading 2/3 of the turnip grows above the soil with the base forming a bowl. This makes it easy for the deer to munch away. They also eat the leaves even if they are brown and dead. Turnips are an excellent early winter deer food. When conditions are right turnips can grow to the size of sugar beets and can produce 20,000 lbs. of forage per acre. Compare this to 300lbs. of forage in a mature forest. Many people ask me about planting sugar beets or mangels. Donít waste your time. They are site sensitive, the seeds are expensive, they use and need very expensive herbicide, they need to be planted early, and they cannot stand weed competition, and donít have the nutrition value of turnips.
The 1-acre of Rye and 1-acre of Wheat was planted September 25th in Clare County. These food plots also were prepared by disking with my heavy farm equipment prior to broadcasting the grain. I did include a small control area in both grain plots using only the quad to spray 3 times the same year planting. The last spraying was September 15th. We broadcast 2 bushels per acre of both Rye and Wheat. Both grains usually germinate quite well with just broadcasting providing there is decent soil contact and moisture. I was satisfied with the results of both the disked and sprayed only control plots. If the soil were drier I would have worked in both grains with a light disking with the quad. As previously mentioned, both grains are nutritious with Rye growing anywhere. Wheat is preferred, but it likes heavier soil. These plants not only are available to deer during the fall and winter they also serve the most important high protein early spring food source. The main problem that I have experienced is that it may take a 5-acre planting to serve the many deer you are sure to observe come spring green up.
Now letís discuss the latest rage in deer food plots, rape, and its cousins. The story of rape is interesting and not new. I planted Dwarf Essex Rape first in 1972 as a cover and food source for pheasants, which I raised in a 1-acre enclosure. My wife called the local farm elevator and when she asked if they had any rape seed, they hung up on her. The country of India grew Rape 3,000 years ago as forage for their cattle. There is a rape type called Polish Rapa, which was grown in Europe a 1,000 years ago. Many farmers there still grow rape for hogs. Rape is probably the easiest plant type to germinate by just broadcasting. As previously mentioned, Rape is very digestible, palatable, high in protein (up to 38%) including the stalk, and is winter hardy. It will grow in poorer soils and can take a light drought due to its deep root. Deer may need to learn to like it, but when they do watch out. Rape can be planted at 4lbs. to 8lbs. an acre. On August 6, 2000, I planted a 2-acre field of biologic fall attractant at 4 Ĺlbs. per acre with excellent results. This was in good soil and planted conventionally with a seed drill and pack wheels. Rape is in the brassica family, which includes Mustard, Turnips, Cabbage, Kale, and Canola. Canola is a hybrid rape developed in the 1960ís by the Canadian Agriculture Community. The oil from rape seed is toxic. Canola oil is not and you probably use it for cooking. Spring Canola is harvested for its seed the same year it is planted. It is adapted for the colder short growing seasons of the Canadian plains and can grow to 4 Ĺ feet high. Winter Canola is planted in late August in Southern Canada (Windsor) and in the less harsh U.S. plain states (Nebraska) and harvested the following summer. There was an effort to grow it in mid-Michigan in the 1980ís. Between the deer damage and other factors it is no longer grown as a cash crop. I plant the Spring and Winter Canola the first half of August. This planting time creates a tall green but not mature Spring Canola plant that is available above the snow. This doesnít always work out. Deep snow or early grazing can foil your plans. The Winter Canola is highly prized by deer and if they can dig through the snow it can look like a minefield. Because it is no longer grown in Michigan you may need to order it as early as March through your local farm seed store for your August planting. It should cost around $2.00 a lb. and most recommend a planting rate of 8lbs. per acre. It can compete quite well with weeds.
The 3-Ĺ acres of Rape Kale and Canola in this demonstration was planted in Clare, Gladwin, and Alcona County and were broadcast by the quad. In Clare County, we planted ĺ of an acre of Dwarf Essex Rape ($0.70 cents a lb.) on August 6th at the rate of 8lbs. per acre. This plot was sprayed the previous year on September 5th then on June 1st and August 6th the day of fertilizing and planting. I doubt if the five operations with the quad took more than 2 hours and cost more than $60.00 dollars. This plot in heavy loam was good even without disking in the rape. In Gladwin County, the operation was identical as the Dwarf Essex Rape planting with 1-acre of Spring Canola and 1-acre of Winter Canola broadcast on August 5th. We planted an additional 2-acres of Spring Canola conventionally alongside the broadcast plot. Yes, it grew better but the quad-planted sites were more than acceptable even without disking in the canola. Again, good heavy farm loam with moisture. Even with 3-acres of Spring Canola the deer would not let it mature and kept the stalks from growing higher than 2 feet. It was all gone by December 1st. So much for a winter food plot. I donít hunt this location, but my neighbors had an experience observing deer throughout the firearm season. They have my permission to shoot into this field. A friend took a nice 2 Ĺ-year-old 10 point on November 23rd. The Winter Canola plot was another story. It was planted much closer to the farmhouse and it was a very productive plot. Winter Canola does not grow stalks the year of planting just big leaves on slender stems. The location of the site may of contributed to its better survival for it was growing and being eaten through November and was still being hit in late January. The snow was at least 1-foot deep and well packed; yet the deer pawed through it and created a battlefield scene. This was a very satisfying experience. My wife, Patricia found a nice set of sheds in this Winter Canola plot on January 15th, 2001.
The last of the 10-acre quad demonstration created food plots was a ĺ-acre planting of biologic fall attractant on July 29th in Alcona County. Mr. Bob Collins planted it in a virgin area of bracken fern. Two sprayings on June 2nd and June 30th and then Ĺ was sprayed again on July 29th. This same July 29th sprayed area was fertilized and broadcast at the rate of 8lbs. per acre. The other 3/8-acre half was fertilized, disked, broadcast planted and disked again. The soil moisture was marginal and it didnít rain a great amount thereafter. The results were more than dramatic. Nothing grew in the sprayed only half, and in the disked half the biologic grew 2 feet high and dense (see photo). The deer were seen in this half through the muzzle-loading season. There are many other plant types that can be seeded and planting methods that can be used with quads and small tractors. Hopefully, you have gained some knowledge with our experiment. Please experiment with many small plots (15-foot square) in your area to find out which plant types and planting methods work best!
Complete the picture.
Food plots can be a great tool in growing healthy and productive deer and with year-round nutritious forage being available donít be surprised if thatís exactly what happens. With year-round nutritious forage a deer herd can double its productivity and this measurement should be taken around May 1st. Check with your local DNR Field Biologist for their estimate of the average adult doe to yearling fawn ratio for this time period. This ratio can vary from 1:.5 to 1:1. Food plots are just one part of the big picture. To complete the picture The Quality Deer Management Association QDMA recommends that you manage the deer and its habitat. Protect the young bucks, harvest an adequate number of does, establish a sanctuary (safe area) of at least 20%, keep records and eliminate the hunting tactic of driving. In the habitat area, plant and/or encourage native trees, bushes, weeds, and grasses to grow. Create clearings of at least 10%, heavy cover, travel corridors, a well-planned timber harvesting program, year-round water sources and a food plot program, which will serve the deer and other critters year-round. All this information can be gained by joining the QDMA and availing yourself of their vast knowledge and making use of the expert advice, which is free from your local DNR Field Biologist, Conservation District Resource Professional, and the Michigan State Extension Service. When you have done this you will have completed the picture and become an ultimate deer manager.
If you have read these food plot instructions this far you are entitled to any secrets that I may have acquired. There may not be any sure shots, but there are a few plant types and planting methods used as attractants that will increase your odds. I have been searching and experimenting with hundreds of food plots since 1982 and nowhere have I found the following instructions, which were created by trial and error. For the September Youth Hunt and the early October Bow Season you may want to try the following, and if you do, follow instructions "exactly". I have mentioned that deer love soybeans, well they do and the younger the better. Reread the soy planting in Clare County on July 29th and use the same formula. The planting window is the first 2 weeks of August. On or just prior to September 15th, broadcast 200lbs. of 19-19-19. Also broadcast one bushel of Rye or Oats per acre if in poor soil. In medium or heavy soil, broadcast one bushel of Wheat or Oats. Soys donít do well with competition and need to be covered with at least 1-inch of soil for germination. For this reason, I recommend you disk thoroughly and plant Round Up ready soybeans. Spray with Round Up just prior to the time you broadcast the Rye, Oats, or Wheat in mid-September. If you are lucky and the deer havenít eaten it completely or there hasnít been a killing frost expect action. The grains will kick in as an attractant for the later hunting seasons.
I have a similar secret for the later Bow, Firearm, and muzzle-loading season. If you join or are now a member of the QDMA, I will personally mail you this secret free. Please send me your request with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Call 1-800-209-DEER for membership. Please include your QDMA membership number.
KEEP THE FUN IN HUNTING!
Ed Spinazzola, President Mid-Michigan Branch QDMA
Board of Directors QDMA
24150 31 Mile Road
Ray Township, Michigan 48096
|ĺ acre planting of biologic fall attractant in Alcona County on July 29, 2000. Left side disked, right side not.||Polaris 500 quad with ATV Fertilizer and seed spreader and ancient 7 foot single gang disk with weights.|
|Spraying set-up, 14 gallon tank with 5 foot spray boom assembly mounted on ATV spreader bracket|
The following suggested food plot type and method of creation is the result of trial and error started in 1982 with my first seeding experiment through the summer of 2000. I am excited and confident from the results of the last few years in creating mini food plots and food plot shooting lanes in hunting sites without farm type power equipment.
Basic frost seeding is broadcasting June clover on existing pastures that have been depleted in legumes. The broadcasting is done while there is still freezing and thawing occurring. Late February through early April is an ideal time period. I wait for most of the snow to melt and after a good freeze I broadcast the seed. This also is my choice of time to cruise the woods for a browse survey, look for shed antlers, and scout the deer. With most of the snow gone and the lower areas filled with water and frozen you can literally glide through the woods. Basic frost seeding on existing pastures works best if it has been extensively grazed or mowed the previous fall. This exposes the soil for the most important seed soil contact condition. The freezing and thawing action draws the seed into tighter contact with the soil. In addition, the early spring rains make a slurry of the top surface of the partially frozen soil. This further enhances seed soil contact and the existing sod helps prevent water and seed run off.
I have never been satisfied with the results of my efforts with basic frost seeding in existing sod fields. Almost always the sod would be too much competition for the June clover to germinate and grow in the lower soil elevations or the soil and moisture too poor in higher elevations. The answer was obvious for the poor soil areas. Stay away from them. Since the lower soil elevations were usually the better soil types and had better vegetative growth, it was an obvious choice to concentrate there. Through the years I would put in variations of frost seedings and sometimes the results would encourage me to try further experimentation. Concentrating my experiments the last few years in developing food plots for seclusive hunting sites has led to the following type of food plot which I hope you try and have success with.
The following are the hand tools you need. A backpack type sprayer (3-gallon minimum) with a hand pump which delivers pressure on demand (example, solo model No. 425 price $90). It works better with a 20" extension, which allows you to spray a 10-ft. wide swath. I would recommend removing the existing plastic flat spray nozzle and replacing it with a stainless steel nozzle No. 8003VS, which can be purchased at farm supply stores. This stainless steel nozzle should last you many years. It has a larger spray volume and wider spray path than the existing one. You need a hand operated over the shoulder broadcast spreader (example: Earthway model 2700A - price $38). This type of spreader is used for both seed and fertilizer. It will broadcast up to a 12-ft. swath and can hold 35 lbs. in the zippered canvas bag. Lastly, you will need a chainsaw. A small to medium size should be adequate. A Stihl model 025 is lightweight but will cut 16" diameter trees.
Carefully select your sites (bow or firearm) even if it means abandoning your long time favorite hunting spot. Give consideration for access to it, heavy cover adjacent, nearby water source or create one, and soil type for maximum production. For your bow site you can clear out an area of 1/8 to 1/4 of an acre (75 to 105 ft. dia.) and/or you can create open travel lanes leading to and from your bow site. These open lanes need to be from 20 to 30 ft. wide depending on overstory. Your plantings should receive a minimum of 50% of the available sunlight. These cleared areas and open lanes are created by your chainsaw and you need not concern yourself about where the trees fall or removing them. Sometimes the more trash the better; it creates a sense of security. These open lanes can meander alongside a drainage in any length you prefer. I have one travel lane that is over Ĺ mile long with 7 strategically located bow blinds one of which I select depending on conditions existing (wind direction, phase of rutÖ). These bow blinds have separate approach paths. This set up does not need bait. Bait may put the deer on alert. For your firearm site your shooting lanes are obviously straight. If you decide to make the length of your shooting lanes about the same as your maximum shooting range or shorter, you can clear an opening at the far end as a feeding site. The size of this food plot clearing can be from 1/8 to 1/4 of an acre or larger. You would need to have most of the trees fall away from the shooting lanes to minimize trimming required for clear observation, unless you have the advantage of an elevated blind. These lane and open area cuttings could be a healthy winter activity.
Note the vigorous growth of bracken fern in the picture on the left, and on the right, the trash from the previous yearsí vegetative growth, which was killed with three sprayings. Around the third or fourth week of May (wait for the top leaf of the bracken fern to unfold) spray with Round Up. I recommend when buying the Round Up you purchase it at a farm supply store in concentrate form. Price should be $50 a gallon. At 1/4 cup of Round Up per gal. of water you should spray at least 2 2/3 acre per gallon. This is $20 an acre max. Around the end of June spray again and only the vegetation that escaped the May spraying. Again around the middle of September spray the escapes and new growth. This September spraying is most critical. I am not pushing Round Up, but it is very effective, moderately priced and has a low toxic EPA warning label. It can be purchased and used by anyone. You do not need an applicators license. Follow spraying instructions, walk with the wind at your back or walk along the spray path to avoid getting your clothing wet. Wear latex gloves, facemask, and change clothes and shower after spraying. Have a gallon container of clean water handy in case of spills on your person. This food plot is the premium type and you do not plant during the year of spraying. The May spraying starts the decomposition of the vegetation (tops and roots). The additional escape sprayings assures minimal native vegetation competition and by next spring planting time there will be plenty of exposed soil to guarantee vital seed soil contact and yet enough dead sparse cover to help keep the soil cool and moist. Something like the straw spread on newly planted grass seed.
The following late winter, preferably the first half of March, broadcast your legume meadow mix seed. You can also broadcast your first split application of fertilizer at this time. Broadcast 200 lbs. of 7-27-27 (or similar) per acre if seeding legumes. If you are not seeding legumes broadcast 200 lbs. of 16-16-16 per acre. Also itís a good idea to broadcast 200 lbs. of 16-16-16 into the surrounding woods at this time. You may have your own preferred seed type from June clover to rape (plant rape after April 1st) or you can contact your county extension agent for recommendations, but whatever you do, plant the seed type that can germinate without being worked mechanically into the soil. Alfalfa does best with firm soil contact (cultipack). I have had from good to excellent results with the following seed types: all clovers, birsdfoot trefoil, rape, kale, chicory, canola, grass, oats, rye grain, and wheat.
My preferred seed type is a meadow mix of legumes. It consists of 3lbs. ladino clover, 3lbs. June clover (red clover), 3lbs. of alsike and 3lbs. of birdsfoot trefoil per acre. You will need to mix inoculant with the legume seed. A separate type of inoculant for the clovers (ladino, june & alsike) and birdsfoot trefoil is necessary. Purchasing the seed from a complete farm store may make it easier. Some will inoculate and mix the seed for you. These inoculants help the legumes fix a major portion of the nitrogen the plantís use through stimulating nodules that are attached to their root system. These nodules use nitrogen thatís in the air and fix it to surrounding soil. This is the reason there is a difference of fertilizer used when seeding legumes (7-27-27 vs. 32-12-12) for corn. However, it has been shown that these nodules fix no more than half of the nitrogen that the plant is capable of using. So the obvious next move is to add nitrogen fertilizer to legumes. Too much is not good; it makes the nodules lazy. I use 7-27-27, but if you used 16-16-16 you won't go wrong.
My recommended meadow mix of legumes (see below) works well in most lower elevation soils, and can tolerate somewhat acid soil (5.5 ph). The ladino is the most preferred by deer and is self perpetuating through seed and stolon growth. Ladino is nothing more than the native unwanted white clover you see growing in your lawn but is a hybrid and with a little luck can out-live you. June clover is short lived (2 years) but is a good first year producer and nurse crop. Alsike also is a native type clover and is hardy and palatable. Birdsfoot trefoil is one of my favorites. It can take a long time to establish itself (3 to 4 years) but once established it can compete with aggressive native grasses. It is easily recognized by its all summer yellow blooms. It resembles alfalfa in appearance but is not as sensitive in site selection. Alfalfa needs a minimum of 6.3 ph, does not like its feet wet and prefers well-drained medium to medium-light soils. If you can grow it, great! It's very nutritious and deer love it. Alfalfa does not reseed itself and needs good soil contact for germination (best planted with a drill and cultipacker). Birdsfoot trefoil is more than a substitute for alfalfa. It will grow in soil as low as 5.5 ph, can have its feet wet or not, reseeds itself, grows during the summer and dry years, is none bloating, less stemy than alfalfa, has similar nutrient value and if well established is long-lived (30 years or more). I can't say deer prefer it, but from my years of close observation in checking actual plants consumed and watching deer graze in my birdsfoot trefoil fields, I don't have any reservations.
Birdsfoot trefoil may have a downside. If conditions are favorable (moist, loamy clay soil), this plant type can be dominant and as mentioned birdsfoot trefoil is not the preferred food of deer. Also, it has been my experience that a large variety of plants in food plots with spring and late summer yearly plantings cannot be overemphasized as to the value derived. I still recommend seeding birdsfoot trefoil in at least part of your food plots for several reasons. It is a nutritious food, decent digestibility, and is an excellent safety value. Its good points become more apparent in a droughty year. Birdsfoot trefoil is not as drought resistant as alfalfa but it will still grow in a dry July and August when everything else seems to go dormant. When the going gets tough, due to the small stem diameter, the deer will consume the entire plant, summer, fall, and dig through the snow in the winter. This I have witnessed many times. A thick growth of birdsfoot trefoil is an excellent cover and food source for game birds and rabbits.
In the picture, note the lush growth of legumes and the absence of bracken fern and other weeds (also the bedded doe).
Planting in the woods in the trashy open lanes does not allow for mowing and this will affect legume productivity and longevity. Also, the amount of grazing done by deer affects it. If your food plots are heavily used and the deer keep it mowed down throughout the summer it will affect its longevity. However, there's a good chance deer will hit it hard in late spring, ease up on it during the summer and then hit it again in late summer and fall and that's just when you want them to. That summer break is most important for the food plot to catch its breath and recharge itself. For this summer break to occur it means deer must have access to other nutritious palatable vegetation.
Fertilization of these food plots is encouraged. In addition to the early season first fertilizer application of 200 lbs. as previously mentioned, I recommend another 200 lbs. applied around the first of August. The first application is for the deer. The 2nd one is for you. It improves your chances of seeing deer during the hunting seasons. If you can only broadcast fertilizer once make it the early August application with 300 lbs. If you apply only once, be prepared to broadcast at least 100 lbs per acre in an emergency dry period, and make this an application of 16-16-16. If you have the time and inclination, I recommend 5 applications, and this is more important the sandier your soil. Apply 100 lbs. on the first of April, May, June, July and the first of August for a total of 500 lbs. Fertilizer especially nitrogen encourages the plantsí root system to make more efficient use of water. Your food plot will have a spurt of growth in spite of an apparent lack of moisture. The more burned out your food plot looks the more it could use fertilizer. Liming for a minimum of 6.0ph in these trashy food plot lanes I realize is difficult and much more expensive. Your soil test may show an application of 2 tons or more of agricultural lime needed per acre. Lime is inexpensive and easy to apply when done in an open field and commercially with large sized self propelled spreaders. This isn't the case if done manually with pellitized lime. Can you imagine manually broadcasting 4000 lbs. on your one-acre food plot with the cost going from $25 a ton to $200 a ton for pellitized lime? If you want the exercise go for it.
Note: The meadow mix of ladino, june and alsike clover along with birdsfoot trefoil is somewhat tolerant of a low ph (5.5). The clovers, ladino, june and alsike and birdsfoot trefoil are tolerant of a variety of soil types (from the lighter loamy sands to loamy clay). I would suggest you initially plant the meadow mix along with a few experimental small, single plant type seedings. Make note of which plant types do best and make adjustments in your future seedings.
Maintenance of premium food plots and options:
There should be none or very little the year of broadcasting the seed. If unwanted weeds or grass appear spot spray them with Round Up around Sept. 15th. Your last broadcasting of fertilizer should be around August 1st.
For the second and hopefully third year of your premium food plot fertilize as previously recommended. Toward the end of May spot spray the invaders with Round Up. Allow for drying time and broadcast the original legume meadow mix or you can add to the legume 12lb. per acre mix 3 lbs. of rape (biologic summer, perennial, fall attractant or the inexpensive dwarf essex rape). Spot spray September 15th.
Using this maintenance program I get at least two years of satisfactory growth. When the grass and other aliens get out of hand itís time to shift into another maintenance phase. You have several options:
The first, which is as follows: Again at the end of May or early June (wait for the ferns to leaf out) spray with Round Up. Temperature should be 65 degrees or above, vegetation dry (no dew) and no rain for at least 3 hours. In two weeks spray again. I add spray-able ammonium sulfate (1/4 cup per gal. water) to the Round Up herbicide solution. Ammonium sulfate is inexpensive and enhances the effectiveness of Round Up. If you use it, make sure you purchase the spray-able type. It is processed to not clog your sprayer. These two sprayings with ammonium sulfate added does a fair job of killing the grass and ferns. I recommend the legume meadow mix with rape added as your preferred seeding. If rape is included change your fertilizer mix to 16-16-16 or equivalent. This mid-June seeding is not the best choice but with timely rains, dead cover to shade your seedlings, easy to germinate, and emerge rape as part of your seeding your chances are good. In addition, to the expected emergence of your seeding you can anticipate a bonus. A little of the old ladino may survive the two sprayings. The birdsfoot trefoil will be set back but after dozens of experiments of spraying with Round Up once, twice, and even three times it has never failed to come back and due to the lack of competition it eventually flourishes.
The second option is three Round Up sprayings with the last around August 1st. Follow this with the same recommended legume meadow mix with rape as noted or other choices such as turnips, commercial wildlife mixes, a straight seeding of dwarf essex rape, or buckwheat. The list is rather long, just remember to plant types that do not need to be mechanically worked into the soil. Whether you choose option one or two should be based on the following, if after the first spraying you observe decent vegetation kill, spray again in two weeks for option one to gain a longer growing season. You also can plant any or more of the plant choices noted in option two.
The third option also has three sprayings with the last and most important one around September 15th. You can use the same reasoning to choose option three. The first two sprayings did not completely kill the pesty plants. Your choice of seed is now narrowed. I like to include a straight planting of oats at this time. Itís nutritious, the deer love it, and it stays green until the first of winter. The following early spring with the oats dead conditions are ideal for the legume meadow mix broadcasting. Other seed choices are rye grain and wheat. Choose rye if you have light soil, wheat does best in heavier soil, and is the better choice for overall deer nutrition. Both provide good nutrition during the fall and winter. Wheat has the edge in spring. It is more digestible, palatable, and stays that way well beyond the point of time deer are no longer interested in rye. You can plant all three together. If you choose rye or wheat for your hunting site, you will need to spray it for your spring planting. Planting rate per acre is 2 bushels with 200 lbs. of 26-12-12 fertilizer at time of planting.
Note: There is absolutely no soil disturbance throughout the process of establishing a premium food plot. The last spraying should eliminate all native plant competition. Disturbing the soil only brings to the surface new weed seeds that would be allowed to germinate.
I intend to continue to experiment with these easy to create food plots. Please let me know your results if you try these plantings or any deviation of them including different plant types used. Hopefully, together we can improve on them. For additional information see our Mid-Michigan Branch QDMA web page www.qdma.net, for membership information call 1-800-209-DEER, for my phone number call 1-810-784-8090.
For the past few years I have been experimenting with warm season food plots and I am very satisfied with the results. Warm season food plots consist of grass / legume mix. They only require yearly maintenance of mowing and fertilizing once established. The longevity of these plots could be 4 years to forever, depending on quality of establishment, maintenance practices , soil type and use. Location, size and number of food plots are important. I have (13) warm season food plots strategically located on 160 acres. The total amount of these acres is 16 with a size of 1/3 to 3 acres, with food plot planted two tracks interconnecting the 13 locations.
Locations of food plots should be based on several thoughts. Use your better soils with at least one side next to heavy cover. These tend to be your lower elevations. You can locate alongside a drainage, a natural travel corridor (or plant one) and deep into the woods. Some of the advantages of planting deep into the woods is the natural feeling of security the deer show by their visiting the food plots any time of the day, better utilization of the food plots, less poaching and the knowledge that you have a better chance of seeing deer even after opening day. Also important is the deer will take their first meal in your food plot and not in your neighbor farmers fields. I find this works well.
The size recommendation by most experts is one to three acres. Most of my food plots fall into this range. However, I have a few plots of around 1/3 of an acre located in dead ends that have proven most interesting. For bow hunting these are especially productive even without bait.
The number and location of plots directly affect the aggressiveness of doe deer during the spring birthing and early fall dispersal times. Maternal doe deer need and demand space during these times. Yet I have observed does with their young claim individual food plots with a similar experience in another food plot 100 yards distant. I am not advocating a large population of deer. That's not what Quality Deer Management is about.
Most hunting property has a variety of habitat some of which is cover, mature woods, etc., which does not produce much wildlife food. Areas converted to food plots can produce 100 times more vegetation in volume than natural maturing wooded habitat. It is these food plots that help keep the deer near or on your wooded property
The following are practices that I have followed with good results: