Today’s land stewards and whitetail managers know what an important role food plots play in the drive towards healthy animals and bigger bucks. Food plots can transform deer management, even on small tracts, and make your hunting dreams come true. What’s the big difference between food plots and their native vegetation? Or, why couldn’t supplemental feeding have the same impact? Here’s why;
It would depend upon whether you are in a nice plush agricultural belt or whether you were in, let’s say, rough mountainous terrain as to what your native vegetation would yield. On average, native vegetation will produce about 200 to 300 pounds of deer food annually at approximately 6% to 12% protein. However, if they actually consumed that much you would see a browse line about 6 feet high and the habitat would be destroyed. So they can only use about 100 pounds per acre without destroying the area.
An average adult deer will consume 6 pounds of feed per day. 365 days per year x 6 pounds = 2,190 pounds of feed per year. So, one deer can be supported on roughly 22 acres. However, body size, health and antler size are going to be well under their potential because of the poor average protein content of the native vegetation. Biologists agree that deer need about 16% protein to express their potential, especially during fawn rearing and antler growth.
There are some that would argue that just dumping “deer corn” or protein pellets out makes everything alright. Corn, only has approximately 8% protein, so native vegetation is much better than corn. The carbohydrates that corn produce do have a place. But even if you are feeding protein pellets at around 20% protein, you still have to consider predation, disease transmission, legality, aesthetics, the amount consumed by non-target animals and the cost.
Supplemental feeding is alright to do pending you do it right. But even if you do it right it is shown that no matter what you feed or how you feed it deer will only consume 20% to 25% of their diet from the supplemental feed. So you are not significantly increasing your property’s carrying capacity and you are not making a big impact on their nutritional intake either. You are still well below the 16% biologists say is necessary.
There is no way that you can supply the amount or the quality of food that you can for the cost, then by planting food plots. Food plots are going to decrease the average home range size for each deer and in doing so it will significantly increase your property’s carrying capacity! Food plots are going to supply above the necessary 16% protein so your deer will have a chance to express their true health and antler growing potential.
Remember we said that they will only consume 20% to 25% of their diet in supplemental feed. It is shown that they will consume approximately 75% to 80% of their diet in food plot crops! It is probably for two reasons, one, because it is more like browsing to them. Deer are naturally browsers. It is unnatural for them to stand at a feeder. Two, because of the quality of the forage. Food plots produce forage that is much more palatable and digestible then corn, protein pellets or native vegetation.
The availability of quality summer forage may be the difference between just surviving and being able to expressing their true genetic potential. Think about the high protein milk that mother doe needs during the spring and summer. Think about the fact that some bucks may loose 30% of their body weight during the rut. The spring and summer is when their playing catch-up. If they don’t have to play catch-up then they can express their true antler growing capability. There are many choices in commodity seeds that we have planted for whitetail over the years. However, be warned that even though they eat the rye grass or dwarf essex rape that you’ve planted for them, it may not be the best thing for them.