Clipping Food Plots

August 24, 2017

Clipping your food plots

 

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So many people ask me questions about clipping their food plots. Clipping is very important and there are several factors to look at. The old saying echoed by the cattle grazing community was “take half, leave half.” The rationale for this was anytime you take more than half of a forages growth, your starting to shut down the roots. Everyone looks at top growth as important but it all starts with the roots. The roots are the powerhouse. The roots are the source of uptake of nutrients and water.

 

I attached a charge showing how the removal of forage at various percentages affects the plant. As you can see, anything over 70% removal is extremely detrimental to a plant. My tip is to try to never clip any lower than 6” to the ground. Here is another factor that comes into play. You have forages that grow at different heights. You have the shorter growing clovers like white dutch and intermediate clovers that are only half as tall as the medium red clovers and other legumes like alfalfa. Alfalfa can easily grow to be over 36” tall. If you have alfalfa, berseem clover or other legumes that are 24” tall and you clip them down to 6” from the ground, you are removing over 75% of the plant and that will result in a slowing of the regrowth, even though you still left 6” of plant.

 

 

The Four Grazing Factors:             Grazing Intensity Effects on the Individual Plant

Percent Leaf Volume Removed     Percent Root Growth Stoppage

10% ........................................ 0%

20% ........................................ 0%

30% ........................................ 0%

40% ........................................ 0%

50% ......................................2-4%

60% ...................................... 50%

70% ...................................... 78%

>80% ............................. ….100%

 

Other factors to consider when your clipping. Don’t just look at plant height. Look at stage of maturity. Just like a farmer determining when to cut his hay fields, scout your plots. I recommend clipping alfalfa as it’s 1/10 bloom. For clover blends when you’re seeing your fields starting to blossom out, it’s time to clip them. Anytime a perennial is starting to produce seed heads or is blossoming, the quality begins to drop rapidly. Plant protein, mineral and energy value drop every single day once they start going through the reproductive stage. We want our deer to consistently have top end nutrition. Deer also are selective browsers. They will only eat these poorer quality forages if there is nothing else to eat. We want to keep the deer on our property and eating the best quality that they can. Clip at stage of maturity, not by the day on the calendar. The exception would be in the fall, your last clipping.

In the fall, we want to look at the calendar. We do not want to clip too late. We want the plant to ready itself for the winter. We want to have that forage’s roots well stored up. The forage will become dormant. Every forage has a dormancy. Alfalfa for example, can have a 2-3-week difference in dormancy date from one variety to another. The earlier the forage goes dormant, the later it typically breaks dormancy. The downside is reduced yields but the upside is extra winter hardiness. You want your last clipping to be a good 30 days before a forage goes into dormancy.

 

How often might you need to clip your perennials each year? The answer lies in location across the United States, weather temps, moisture and other factors like soil fertility. I have clients who at times must clip their perennials five times in a year. There are others out there who have only had to clip their perennials two to three times a year. If you have high deer densities and they are consistently eating in your plots, they are keeping them clipped for you. If you have nutrient deficiencies like low potassium and sulfur levels, you might have stunted growth. Even though you don’t have to worry about clipping as often, your goal should be to maximize growth and available nutrition per acre.

In the end, think like a farmer. Think maximum growth. Think maximum nutrition. Clip not just for the present but clip for the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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