The ate what?
What do deer prefer to eat?
This question gets asked on social media on occasion and asked of me several times throughout the year. If someone were following me around through out the year at my research properties or on property tours across the US, they would have different answers depending on many factors. My top 5 list has changed over the years. My top 5 list for your property would be different as well based on information you could provide along with current weather conditions.
What affects forage preference by deer?
1) Weather. Is it hot or cold? Wet or dry? Sunny or cloudy?
2) Stage of forage maturity. Most forages have a time frame of maximum attraction and then the desirability really drops as that forage moves into reproduction or begins to flower out.
3) Soil pH, cec, soil biology and overall health
4) How one fertilizes dry, liquid, or foliar.
5) Plant diseases
6) Insect pressures
7) Seeding rates
8) Time of year/day length
9) Surrounding crops or browse
10) Distance from bedding and water
11) Type of companion crops in a blend
13) Location of planting
14) Sward density
In a world where people want cookie cutter answers, these are many factors that come into play. There rarely is one answer. If you are someone who just wants to plant something and see deer, the ability to see deer goes way up with every factor being considered. You can get deer to eat just about anything but have a hand in seeing poor growth and fewer deer sightings. It's not complicated and it's based on science and at times some simple math. What the wildlife industry does a poor job of doing is educating folks is the science of putting preferred browse in front of a deer's mouth when we want it to be there. Many forages that deer love are not sold to the general public because of profit compared to performance. Hopefully we all pause a bit and consider the value of these 14 things beyond the bag and name.