One of my books was titled the next bite. Here are some tidbits from it to consider. Deer are selective browsers. They eat what they eat for a variety of reasons. There are ruminants, which means they have 4 “stomach” compartments. After they eat, they need to lay down. This is when the forages they consumed are processed, regurgitated and digested in their internal factory. They are an animal. They eat to meet their energy requirements. They also have a limited amount of forage that they can consume at one time before they have rumen fill. That means when the tank is full. This is why deer graze many times a day.
When deer eat to meet their energy requirements what we see with most ruminants is less forage needed when those forages are higher in energy. It can be common on higher energy forage diets to see a ruminant need 10% less forage to meet their daily needs for growth and maintenance. Keep in mind that deer are the prey. They don’t want to spend any more time out in the open to scavenge for their food. There are strategies with placing food in various set ups on your properties. There is also strategy to allow deer to graze faster to get them back into cover but also to get them back laying down to “ruminant.”
What factors affect what deer eat, when they eat it?
What grows the fastest tends to become more palatable earlier on in that forage’s growth cycle. Many annual clovers are way more attractive than perennials that take a little longer to establish. We even see the same concepts on fall brassicas. Those that mature fastest tend to be the one’s desired earlier in the fall.
Mother nature comes into play. On wet periods, forages that tolerate wet are those more readily consumed. The same thing comes into play during dry periods. During dry periods, those forages that are less stressed by that weather are more appealing compared to others.
Insects and plant disease. Insects attacking forages stresses them out. The result is lower sugars and a more bitter plant. The same thing applies with plant diseases. This can be a big problem for people who plant soybeans or brassicas more than 2 years in a row in a plot.
Proper fertilizations. Most don’t think about how the plants roots are the engine. If you do not have a well running engine, you’re not able to pull the nutrients from the soil. You also are not able to store nutrients as well that are pulled from the sun into the plant. Plant sugars and plant health is a whole topic in itself. In a food plot industry where over 90% of people have imbalanced soils, this is huge problem with plant growth and palatability.
Sulfur deficiency. Very few people understand the importance of sulfur on plant sugars, nitrogen conversion and plant protein. This is where brix readings are a strong indicator in what a deer would eat if given choices.
Plant maturity. Many people do not consider the calendar when planting. Many commonly grown forages mature in 42-60 days. What happens to any forage when they go from the vegetative stage into the reproductive stage? Plant plunge in protein, minerals and energy. They also start using their “reserves” on producing seed and the result is lower plant sugars.
Surrounding browse. Forbs, acorns, farm crops, and weeds all are more desirable food sources at various times of year. They also are the next bite because of their nutrients and palatability at that moment in the year.
The same factors that affect plant attraction are also the same factors that affect plant growth. When we get higher growths we also see forages that are more attractive as well. Fertility and genetics matter.
I could go on and on but the message here is there are things to consider before planting. Planting in 2020 also affects what deer might eat in 2021 because of some of the above factors. Some of you are now saying, I don’t care, I just want deer to be seen where I want to kill them. Yep, it can as simple as planting something to match your management. If you’re not going to fertilize right, plant the right forages for your “current” soil nutrient levels, then plant forages that are lower in growth, lower in nutrition and slower growing. In the fall those forages would be oats, rye, wheat, barley, triticale. Earlier those would be swedes, rutabaga, grain sorghums. etc.
You can do better, we all can.