Jan 10, 2014

Winter Food Plots

By: Steve Jordan

The more I have worked with food plots through the years, the more I have geared up to planting food plots for winter feeding. Some of the varieties I like to plant are winter rye, winter wheat, earlier planted turnip mixes, sugar beets, corn, mature soybeans, annual wheat, and sorghum. These plants, as long as they are accessible, are nutritious and high energy. 

Accessibility is sometimes challenging. You may have to be very creative to make sure the deer and turkeys can feed on your crops. One method is, of course, taking a tractor with a bucket and plowing out snow from various areas in the plot. Sometimes a crust of ice forms on the snow to make a barrier that is not easily broken up. If the ice layer is not too thick, a disk behind the tractor could open up the entire plot easily. If the ice layer is too thick, you can pick up a couple of bags of sidewalk salt. I like to cut the corner of a bag and make zigzag trails throughout the plot. It is amazing how wide the trails can get once the deer and the sun have a little access to the ground.

Last winter was shaping up to be a very challenging winter for the wildlife. I had a logger come in and clear cut three acres, along with some selective cutting on another ten acres. The maple, ash, and other varieties of treetops made a new food source for the hungry deer. 

The cedar trees that grow in Wisconsin are usually trimmed by the deer as far as they can reach each year. If you take a step ladder out into the woods, along with a good bow saw, you can create a great food source in an hour or so. Cedar branches cut through very easily with a bow saw. I like to randomly work through the woods picking cedar trees that can be trimmed easily. Once these piles of branches are eaten up, I will cut some more. If you want to sell or utilize cedar posts, this is an excellent time to cut cedar trees down. You can trim all of the branches off the posts for the deer and pull the trunk out to a staging area. 

Remember, you are trying to keep the deer healthy for better fawn production along with better antler growth. If deer can make it through to the spring with little winter stress, you will achieve both. 

An easier method is to simply artificially feed the wildlife in the winter. Feeding deer and wildlife has been very effective, enjoyable, expensive, and rewarding. Putting out grains, such as corn, or setting out hay bales has been very popular for years. Residents, businesses, resorts, taverns, etc., have provided enjoyment to their friends and customers. Many times you will see a picture of a flock of turkeys or a herd of deer by someone's feeder in the newspaper each winter. The new law on artificial feeding of wildlife is using a maximum of two gallons of feed and the use of electronic feeders has been banned. The latest movement from the Department of Natural Resources and others is to ban the feeding of wildlife. I personally understand their concern, but I feel that the good outweighs the bad as far as the health of the animals. A healthy, well fed animal can fight many diseases, stress, or injury better than an animal on the brink of starvation during a long winter.

Enough said on that. I hope some of my strategies for helping the animals through our tough Wisconsin winters help you on your property or lands you frequent. These are natural methods that are legal to do. Let's all hope for a shorter, warmer winter than last year.