Food Plots for Wildlife
Food plots may increase the value of hunting leases, make deer more visible for viewing opportunities, and improve the diet quality of deer. However, planting food plots is not a replacement for poor habitat management. Maintaining deer densities within the carrying capacity of the habitat, sound livestock grazing management, and maintaining quality habitat should be the first priorities of any management program.
Food plots should not be considered a substitute for good management. They should be considered as "supplements" to the native habitat, not as a "cure-all" for low quality or poorly managed habitats.
Landowners will need to decide what, when and where to plant depending on each individual situation. Perennials do not require planting every year, but they produce less forage than annuals. All food plots should be fenced from livestock and warmseason annual food plots should be protected from deer until they are established.
To improve diet quality, a ranch should have one cool-season and one warm-season food plot per square mile. Plot size depends on animal density and property size. The size and number of plots that can be established may be limited by lack of farmable soils. Rectangular-shaped plots are preferred to long, narrow plots. Food plots are the most productive if all woody plants inside the plots are removed. When planting legumes, care should be taken to inoculate them properly. In semiarid habitats, skip row planting may increase plant survival and reduce seed costs. In addition to the establishment and maintenance of native openings, supplemental forages (food plots) can be managed to improve diversity and production. Planted food plots can provide a highly nutritious food source that can be beneficial to wildlife during periods of stress. To minimize the distance that wildlife must travel, openings should be distributed across the property as much as possible. It is always best to establish a variety of plantings to provide more diversity and to insure against the failure of one type of planting. It is essential that food plots are properly fertilized and limed in order to receive the maximum benefit. Each food plot should have a soil test in order to determine the correct lime and fertilizer rates.
Since late summer and late winter are often stressful periods of the year for wildlife, both warm season and cool season food plots can be established. During the dry summer months, as plant growth slows, the nutrient levels in native vegetation are much lower than when the plants are actively growing during the spring. Warm season plantings include cowpeas, alyceclover and American jointvetch. While alyceclover, jointvetch, and cowpeas are annuals, the jointvetch will reseed if it is allowed to produce seed and then mowed in the fall. In order to insure proper growth, all warm season plantings should be planted on bottomland sites (if possible) where soil moisture will be sufficient during the summer to insure proper growth. Cool season plantings include combinations of elbon rye, clovers, rye grass, and wheat. Cereal grains such as rye and wheat will benefit quail, turkeys, and songbirds in the spring.
Planting food plots is an excellent way to improve available nutrition, increase the carrying capacity and concentrate wildlife on your property. Food plots do not take the place of habitat management in general, but are intended to augment the quantity and quality of food occurring naturally in an area.
If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at; http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ wildlifebiologist.