Complimenting livestock operations with game hunting leases is not a new concept. With the popularity of hunting wild game like white tail deer, wild hogs, and other large game, farmers and ranchers can prepare wildlife feeding areas (wildlife food plots) to attract game to specific locations. Also, feed them and ensure that they acquire the necessary nutrition for later harvest in the year. Other advantages to establishing a food plot during the fall and winter months are:
- Providing nutrition for weaned fawns that are still growing.
- Providing energy deer need to prepare for winter.
- Replacing energy lost during the rut or breeding period.
- Providing female deer adequate nutrition while they are pregnant.
- Providing a source of food for wild turkeys, quail and non-game wildlife species.
Before you plant consider the following: 1. is your food plot located in the right place? 2. Does the soil have the capacity to feed the crops you will plant? 3. Do I need to prepare the soil differently than I regularly do? 4. Are my forage options the correct ones for this location?
Choose a good location.
The location of a food plot determines its size and growing conditions, as well as the likelihood it will be utilized by deer. Deer like food plots located close to cover where they can hide from predators. Therefore, plots should be established near natural cover regularly frequented by deer. Other considerations when establishing a food plot should include its proximity to water and distance from areas of high human activity. If the primary purpose of the food plot is to attract deer for hunting, it may also be desirable to consider wind direction when deciding on location. Deer will often avoid plots upwind of escape cover. Lower elevation sites should also be avoided as flooding will make foods less available and inhibit establishment. Establishment costs are typically minimized if deer food plots are located in existing openings, e.g., natural meadows, fallow fields, road edges, utility rights of way, and firelanes.
Flatwood soils are usually acid (low pH). Soil acidity can have an impact in your crop’s ability to feed from nutrients in the ground. Ideal pH for most crops falls in the 5.8-6.8 range. Bringing your soil pH up will take 2 to 3 months after applying lime.
Replenishing nutrients for the plant will also have a big impact in forage yield. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are known as macro-nutrients. Unless indicated by the soil analysis, use a complete fertilizer that supplies your soil with secondary and micro-nutrients when preparing your food plot.
Prepare your plot area for planting.
Disk the site to prepare for planting. After disking, you can broadcast or drill the seed in the ground with a grain drill. If using a seed mix of varied sizes, the most efficient way to plant would be to broadcast your seed. After the seed is in the ground light disk or roll the seed to increase soil contact and improve the chances of germination. Do not disk small seeds in too deep.
Forage Mixes – Blending different types of forage will provide variety to your plot. Using proven varieties specific for your region can ensure good yields and optimal gains for your game. Here are your options:
If using legumes, don’t forget to inoculate seeds if these do not come with inoculant in the package. Inoculants are bacteria packages that will help seeds develop nodules that can provide the plant with nitrogen from the air. Good inoculation will provide you with free N for your system as plant roots decay in the future.
For cool season – alfalfa, red clover, crimson clover, white clover, berseem clover, hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas.
For warm season – cowpeas, forage soybeans, Sunn hemp, and partridge pea.
Annual grasses are usually digestible before they go to seed. At this stage, they can supply game with energy. Annual grasses can provide habitat for turkey as well as food for both, quail, turkey and deer. Clumping grasses can provide nesting habitat for wild game birds.
For cool season – Oats, ryegrass, wheat, rye.
For warm season – Indian corn, Japanese millet, pearl millet.
Forbs – These provide lots of energy during the cool season. Some of the cultivars need to be tested in our area and may require colder climate. Some examples of these are: radishes, and turnips.
Sunflowers – these warm season summer annuals can serve as food for doves and deer.
Buckwheat – early maturing warm season crop. It is a high producer of seed and tender plant material that may be a good addition to the mix. Its fast growing nature helps manage unwanted weeds in the plot.
Start planning for this year’s white-tailed buffet
Implementing a good wildlife food plot system needs to start from the ground up: investing in a good seedbed. You can maintain game attracted to one place that serves as a monitoring station, while at the same time providing good nutrition during winter months where food may be few and far between. After winter is over, your spot can continue to be managed and monitored for later game hunting.
For more information on wildlife food plot options, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Hardee County Office at 863-773-2164.