Annuals for Wildlife
BY Dana R. Rogers
They just couldn’t help themselves. The temperature was in the single digits with a steady gale from the northwest. As I sat in my ground blind this cold December afternoon I watched a steady parade of whitetails march from thick bedding cover out into my five acres of corn and soybeans. It was the only grain left standing for miles after all the neighbors’ combines had finished running. The thick blanket of snow covered those barren fields. The herd really had no choice but to congregate on the last available food source I’d left for them. That evening I arrowed a fat, four-year old that would score in that 140- inch range. I’d seen him on trail camera pictures from previous
winters, but he didn’t live on this farm. Like most of the other deer, he wound up here because this property held the best food.
For us gamekeepers though, it’s not just about hunting season. It’s about improving habitat and available nutritiofor the overall health of the wildlife. Poor nutrition can derail separate aspects of an otherwise well-planned management program. So obviously, we managers seek to provide higher quality food.
Understanding and managing deer nutrition is complex because the quality of food can be defined in many ways and deer nutrient requirements vary seasonally and regionally. From a nutritional standpoint, energy is the potential to do work. Energy is made available when organic compounds are metabolized. The composition of food determines its gross energy content. For example, carbohydrates have 4.5 kcal/g and fats have 9 kcal/g of gross energy. Proteins and minerals are also an important piece of the puzzle, but they are relied on more heavily during the spring and summer, when fawns are in their final weeks of development and antler growth is taking place. Energy is needed more during the fall and winter stress periods.
Carbohydrates and fats are the two primary sources of energy for deer. Fats are high in gross energy and are highly digestible. Carbohydrates can be highly digestible (corn, beans and other grains) or poorly digestible (mature grasses). A steady diet of high quality protein that is easily digested is essential in maximizing antler and fawn development. There are many different crops that will help provide a great diet of nutrition to your wildlife, but by far my favorite plantings involve spring annuals such as corn and soybeans.
With a protein level of 7 to 10 percent, corn is high in fat and carbohydrates. In addition to providing a tasty meal and energy source for deer, corn makes outstanding bedding and thermal cover for deer if left un-harvested. Here in the northern plains, a few acres of standing corn serves as a winter bedding area in addition to a high-energy food source.
Corn prefers well-drained, loamy soils with a pH between 6.0 & 7.0. Herbicides or the use of some form of cultivation will be necessary in order to establish a good stand. By planting Roundup Ready corn you can remove the seed to till and completely take care of any weed competition.
That’s the option I prefer but it comes with more expense.