So many people focus on the August to November time frame for food plot forages on their properties. From my experiences next to no one has enough winter feed for deer. When I work with clients, I set up their properties to do all in our power to provide as much available forage every season of the year. Here are some strategies that I use to help make this happen.
Spring. During the spring, many food plotters use perennial clovers, alfalfa and chicory blends. This is the time where people should also consider cool season soil building blends. Oats, peas, triticale, and annual clovers are all great options for providing rapid early season nutrition. They also act as smother crops and can be used as plow downs before fall plantings. I am huge advocate for planting annual clovers as an all season blend. Many of these annual clovers stay green below 10 degree and in some cases even colder. They are very graze tolerant and also fixate a lot of nitrogen, which benefits subsequent plantings.
Summer. The wildlife industry favorite is soybeans but here is where I like my clients to get more creative, We use this time to plant warm season plow down mixes that include buckwheat, sorghum and sunn hemp. The buckwheat and sunn hemp can be desired species for deer. This type of mix will fixate nitrogen and build soil organic matter. We also should look at other forages like cow peas, lab lab and sunflowers. My favorite warm season blend also doubles as my favorite winter feed blend. This blend has sunn hemp, soybeans, buckwheat, grain sorghum and sunflowers. This becomes a winter energy source during times of extreme cold or snow. It can be easy to consume by deer due to the standability of this blend.
Fall. The focus of the wildlife has been turnips, grains and brassica blends. During this time of year, I like a diversity of forages. I like my clients to plant 2-3 different fall blends to extend the grazing season but also to help set one up for the future by creating plot rotation. Overlooked forages for the fall include forbs, alfalfa, annual clovers, swedes and annual clovers.
Winter. Many food plotters have a hard time getting enough soybeans to survive grazing pressures. This is where I like mixes like the warm season blend i previously mentioned. It makes it harder for deer to overbrowse the soybeans. I also am not as much of a fan of "new genetic corn" for deer but if properly managed, corn can be an option. Winter bulb plots containing rutabaga, radish and turnips can be a via winter source of energy. My all time favorite winter forage option for deer is Alfalfa. When managed properly it will be the preferred winter feed option for whitetails. The key thing is making sure you time your last clipping of alfalfa so that you have palatability and also enough plant height to allow it to be more easily grazed. There is a miss conception that "brown alfalfa" has little value. The alfalfa that is dormant and standing in your fields will be very close to the value of it when green. Think about baled hay that farmers feed to their animals.
Think plot rotation. By having a sound plot rotation, you are able to set yourself up with a 365 day nutrition plan not just for the current season but years to come. Having about 1/3 of your land into perennials, 1/3 into corn, soybeans and summer annuals and the last 1/3 into spring and fall cool season annuals helps tilt the table in your favor to achieve success. Plan, plan, plan.