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I admit to being a perfectionist when it comes to nutrition and agronomy. One of the topics I once spoke on in some adult agriculture classes was benchmarking. Here is how I want you to apply it to your wildlife program.

In the wildlife industry, success seems to be measured by the amount of inches on the trophy buck you shot. You shoot a huge buck, you become more of an expert or feel like more of a success. Other measure success by how many deer they harvest. Here is another way to look at your own program. The definition of benchmarking is a standard or point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed.

I have planted experimental plots for several years and have educational plots to share data. I recently had a couple people question how I had them set up. Here is my thought process. I took part in a controlled study on Wisconsin’s first discovery farm. My task was the measure the forages once a week in the next paddock that the cows were going to graze. This told us exactly what the cows were going to be eating. The second part of that was to monitor production and milk components.

For my main educational plot this year, we have 30 blocks of forages that we will be measuring growth, crude protein levels, mineral content, fiber content and energy levels. This is benchmarking. We allow people to see how various forages compare at the same stage in their growth cycles. Yes, we could watch and see what deer are eating at various times but deer are selective grazers and many factors from year to year dictate what they eat and when. In an animal’s diet, I call this “variables.” We also have “fixed” or “determined values.” In my educational plot studies, the determined values are the growth measurements and forage quality results. Yes, deer will eat various things but when we keep measuring differences in clovers, brassicas and other legumes in various plots and in many years of collecting data, we will begin to see trends. Again, the comparing of these values is what benchmarking is.

Whether you’re a first-time food plotter or seasoned veteran, you should always compare your current results with previous. Are you an expert resting on your laurels or past successes? If so, then perhaps you’re not utilizing habitat managers to pick up tips to do better. For myself, I consider myself an elite nutritionist and agronomist but I always am looking towards many of you or other industry experts to glean more information. Every little tip on something that is a weakness of mine, helps make me become more of an expert. Case in point, I have guys who get paid a lot of money by some of you to look at their properties. I am used as a referral to go over the food plot side of things. When people ask me for advice on trees and water, even though I have a pretty good background on that, there are people with a lot more background on those areas. I refer any of you to these guys. This is a great “team approach.” I used to work closely with vets, bankers and animal suppliers with some of my farm clients. This was a team approach that we all looked at various numbers (benchmarks) to put multiple eyes upon these numbers. Sometimes we look at the same things day after day, month after month, so that we begin to miss things because they all start looking the same.

Maybe you can grow 200-bushel corn, but do you want to grow 250-bushel corn? Are you a food plotter who can grow 50 bushel soybeans? If you only have 1 acre to plant those soybeans, do you want to grow 60 or 70 bushel soybeans? Aren’t you able to feed more deer without planting more land? This is called food plot efficiency. Do you know how many tons per acre that your clover plot is producing this year? Do you know what is typical for the species that your planting? Most do not. This is why I will share with you these values in a controlled environment.

Do you know how ladino clover compares to alfalfa, alsike clover, chicory and other forages in yield and quality? Are you planting the best forages for your soil ph., soil types, location and management style? Scout yourself or have someone unbiased evaluate your current program….BENCHMARKING.

Are you taking soil samples and plant tissue samples or scissors cut forage samples? Comparing your soil samples to the forage quality will help teach you is your connecting effectively your fertilizations to your forages. So here is my challenge to you all. If you’re in year 1 of your wildlife program, look at this as a wonderful opportunity to start your yearly comparisons. You’re at step 1. Begin to plant for the future and monitor how things progress. There should never be a decline in productivity if you keep monitoring your program.

Maybe you’ve been doing wildlife management for 15 years. Are you still doing more to continue your program on an upward progression? Maybe you shot a 190-inch buck last year. What might you be able to do to help add even more inches in future harvests? Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has them.

I attached a chart with some forages tested in my educational plot last year. I’ll post this year’s results as they come in. I hope I gave you all some food for thought. I look forward to learning more from each of you so as I, myself continue to improve my own management program. Happy Holidays!

each of you so as I, myself continue to improve my own management program. Happy Holidays!

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