Forage demands are high for deer now

April showers did not bring May flowers this year; in fact, the state has endured 3½ months of below-normal rainfall. Add to that the record-breaking high temperatures that occurred in May, and the habitat is somewhat stressed.

Instead of spring flowers, the state got an early dose of the dog days of summer. There was some rain in May, but 90-degree-plus temperatures make short work of soil moisture.

Last year the clover and native forage plants in the food plots at Clinton were doing quite well in the spring, but then the drought came and made short work of the forage. This doesn’t do much for the growth and development of the deer herd since the nutritional requirements of deer are quite high in the spring and early summer. The does are either fawning or in the last couple of months of pregnancy, and the bucks are trying to increase in body weight as well as grow antlers. Forages that are high in protein are in high demand by whitetails.

The rain during the last couple of weeks of May helped to keep the white clover and the native herbaceous forages alive and green. I am in hopes that a few showers will continue to occur; otherwise, we may be in the same shape as last year.

If you had plans on planting some summer forages for deer, it may be wise to wait and see what the long-term forecast is. I plowed and planted during the turkey season, and have some fair to good stands of sorghum and milo, some of which have some peas, beans and corn mixed in.

When it comes to wildlife plantings, diversity is an important ingredient. Deer generally do not eat the sorghum and milo while it is growing, but will readily eat the peas and beans. Since peas and beans are legumes, they produce nitrogen for the soil, which is needed by the grasses.

Hopefully these stands will produce seed that will be eaten by the deer in late summer and fall. Some stands that did well will be bush-hogged in strips in anticipation of some September dove hunting, and the other strips will be left to provide forage and cover for the fall and winter.

My fall plantings consist of winter grass and clover. Since my objective is simply to have green grass to attract deer and produce seed for quail and turkey in the spring, I have quit planting wheat and oats, and rely on the ryegrass and Timothy grass to produce enough seed in the spring for regeneration in the fall. This saves money on grass seed and reduces the expense of fall plowing.

I plant crimson clover and white clover in the fall after I have bush-hogged. This past spring deer were heavily browsing on the white clover, and if the rain continues, it will provide more quality forage for the deer. Crimson clover dies back once the weather gets hot, but one advantage of it is that it does regenerate in the fall from the seed it produced in the spring. Never skip on the fertilizer; clovers need a fertilizer with low nitrogen and high phosphorus and potassium, while the grasses need high-nitrogen fertilizer.

In addition to the white clover, the patches have several native plant forages that deer are heavily eating. Blackberry, dewberry and French mulberry are three species that frequently show up in the spring patches, and are readily eaten by deer. I do not apply herbicides to the patches because these native species are valuable to the habitat, and do not cost me anything. Another species that is abundant in the patches and heavily browsed by deer is verbena, or vervain.

Verbena is a green square-stemmed plant with simple opposite leaves (the leaves are directly across from one another on the stem). Verbena is a good plant to have in flower beds around the house because it attracts the beautiful swallowtail butterflies. Verbena is common in fields, rights-of-way and roadsides. It regenerates itself from seed and rootstock. Some books refer to it as a plant of moderate browse value for deer. I have always found it to be a plant that is readily browsed.

At my home in Baton Rouge, the verbena is about 5 to 6 feet tall; in the patches at Clinton, it is about knee high. I would say it is highly preferred by deer in Louisiana.

If you do want to plant a summer patch, it is always wise to check the field you are going to plant. If it has good stands of these native forages, it would be somewhat unproductive to plow it up and spend the money for seed when the forage is already present. An application of fertilizer would probably be in order, and with a little rain, will produce browse the entire summer.

If the vegetation becomes too dense in the field, simply bush-hog some strips through it to set back the vegetation growth and provide travel lanes. The bush-hogging will especially help quail and turkeys. Thick stands of vegetation are not conducive for a hen with a brood of young birds. The young birds are primarily feeding on insects and cannot move around and bug in heavy vegetation.

Remember the word diversity when working food plots. Rather than focusing on white-tailed deer, work your food-plot program so that it benefits other wildlife species, especially turkey and quail. Diversify the plantings and diversify the species that you plant.

Another important feature of my spring/summer habitat program is to have soft mast trees and shrubs producing spring and summer fruit. Black cherry, red mulberry, mayhaw and the wild vacciniums produce soft-mast fruits during the spring and summer that are readily utilized by deer and other wildlife species.

Now would be the time to check your property and see if you have some of these species. If not, you might want to put some tree planting on your work list for next winter. Now however, is not the time to plant them, unless you have the means to water them in case Mother Nature decides to keep things dry.

About David Moreland 245 Articles
David Moreland is a retired wildlife biologist with LDWF, having served as the State Deer Biologist for 13 years and as Chief of the Wildlife Division for three years. He and his wife Prudy live in rural East Feliciana Parish.