Two renowned deer research facilities reveal surprising discoveries in whitetail forage selection
Food plot companies rage about this forage or that forage. This brand is better than that brand. And according to some metrics, those things might be true. Better germination rates, drought resistance, disease resistance, crop yields, and other factors are all important to food plot success. Some varieties might even offer better carbohydrate, protein, and other nutrient levels.
But when it comes to the overall best for whitetail preference, is one significantly better than the other? Is there a food plot silver bullet? According to the guys who making a living studying whitetails, there might not be.
The University of Florida and Mississippi State University have renowned deer labs that produce ground-breaking research findings. One such discovery revealed that the best food plot forage might not be what you think it is.
In this video, courtesy of UF’s Deer Lab, Marcus Lashley and Jacob Dykes discuss the topic. They were interested in the diet selection of white-tailed deer, and their findings helped determine what drives a deer to eat specific items, and when they do so.
During the research phase, Dykes studied common food plot species, including arrow leaf clover, balansa clover, berseem clover, bob oats, cereal rye, chicory, crimson clover, Durana clover, ladino clover, red clover, turnips, winter wheat, winter peas, fallow ground, and more.
“We set out to evaluate a few different food plot forages,” he said. “We went to the co-op and picked up bags of seed, just like anyone else. We planted 15 popular food plot forages in equal-sized adjacent plots.”
They fenced the food plots and kept deer out until plots were established. They even placed exclusion cages so they could measure browse levels of each food plot. Before the study, they expected to walk away with a short list of conclusive silver-bullet food plot species. Much to their surprise, that didn’t happen.
“They didn’t overly select a certain forage at all,” Dykes said. “Basically, what’s happening is they have nutritional requirements that change over time.”
“Nutritional requirement is a moving target,” Lashley said. “It depends on the time of year and the individual deer. You and your buddies are arguing over the best forage, and you could both be right, or wrong. You’d be right or wrong depending on what time of year it is.”
Because of these findings, Lashley and Dykes do not recommend a short list of forage types. Rather, they encourage land managers to offer deer a buffet. Whitetails are concentrate selectors, which means they require the best parts of the best plants. And when they can find more of these on your property, chances are they’ll spend more time there.
“The only way you can meet the demands of deer is to give them the opportunity to choose,” Lashley said. “If managing a food plot program, it’s really important to offer diversity.”
So, the silver bullet isn’t found in planting a specific food plot species or group of food plot species. Instead, you find it by offering as many plant species as possible.
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