Supplemental Feed Vs Food Plots

This is very well done so I just reposted:

It is very easy to get caught up in the idea of supplemental feeding your deer herd, the image of big bucks roaming your hunting grounds is enough to cloud anyone’s judgment. But in order to get those big bucks out of your dreams and into the crosshairs of your scope you need to research what the professionals and leaders of the industry are doing to produce big bucks. If you look at all the top producing whitetail ranches in the nation I think you will see that a vast majority of them are using protein feeds as their method of supplementation. Why would all these ranches use protein feeds instead of just food plots as their method of supplementation? I believe the following will help shed some light on that question.

The two most common and best ways to increase the protein intake of a deer herd is either protein feeds or food plots. Despite some rhetoric, both methods are considered supplemental feeding deer. Food plots are the latest and most current fad in deer management. Like all fads, food plots may not be for everyone. Food plots have many drawbacks that most people are not aware of. For example, the first step in creating a food plot is to destroy and clear all native vegetation on that piece of ground. Destroying native vegetation usually means destroying deer habitat (in most cases you are replacing that native vegetation with a non-native plant). Once these areas have been cleared it destroys ecological succession, and that area may never return to its original state. On the other hand, protein feeds do not require the destruction of native vegetation in order to implement a supplementation program. Most people just put up a free choice gravity flow feeder that the deer have access to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. This avenue of supplementation does not destroy any acreage of natural habitat and most people do not even hunt over the protein feeder. Why, you might ask? Because that feeder is there to increase the protein intake of the deer…it is not there to attract deer to a location so that they can be killed. You cannot say the same about a food plot with a deer stand at end of it. With protein feeds, the manager just places a feeder in the desired area and the deer continue to mutually use and benefit from both native vegetation and protein feeds.Most seed companies recommend you plant in fertile, black soils, which retains moisture during dry periods of the year. It is no coincidence that the soil types they recommend you to place your food plot in are the exact same soils that usually produce the most productive native plant species for deer. If you chose not to plant in the most fertile of soil types, then you are faced with the extra cost of fertilizer or the inevitability of rotating your food plot crop to different sections every year. Without fertilization or rotation, your food plot faces the strong possibility that the plant grown will not actually exhibit the nutrient content that the manufactures states it is capable of under ideal conditions. Alternatively, most protein feeds come with a guaranteed analysis from the manufacturer. This guaranteed analysis assures the deer manager that his/her deer are receiving the exact nutrients at the exact proper levels, regardless of weather patterns or soil fertility.

Another subject that seed companies fail to mention…is that size matters. The size of the food plot is one of most important aspects about creating a food plot and surprisingly it is rarely discussed. It is not a great leap of logic to understand that if a food plot is to significantly increase the overall nutrition of the entire deer herd, it has to be large enough to not only provide food for each and every deer in the herd, but to also provide enough food to significantly increase their nutritional status. In other words, if you have 100 deer in your area you can hardly expect a 5-acre food plot to provide enough nutrition to significantly increase the overall health of your deer herd. Let’s study this example further; each deer will eat approximately 1.5 – 3 lbs of food each day. By multiplying the number of deer in your area times the pounds of food each deer eats per day, we can conservatively deduce that the food plot would have to produce 150 lbs of food per day. Some food plot crops, of course, can actually do this. However, can it be done on just 5 acres and can it be done without the ideal weather conditions?

Even if a food plot is planted in the perfect soil type, at the perfect depth, with the perfect equipment, at the perfect time of year, the food plot still could not produce. Without proper amounts and timing of rain the ideal planting conditions for a food plot are meaningless. As Dr. Kroll has noted on many occasions, the manager must plant both warm and cool season food plots; something most areas cannot support. In the North, frozen ground and snow prevent plant growth for up to seven months; while in the South; high summer temperatures and low rainfall prohibit crop production at a critical time. Hence, there always is a need for supplemental protein feeds. Dr. Kroll calls pelleted feeds, “rainfall in a bag.” According to Dr. Kroll pelleted rations allow deer to “top off the tank” whenever they need added nutrition.

During a drought most plants, native and non-native, have limited growth and exhibit less than desirable nutrient levels. Droughts can create the food plot planter’s worst nightmare, double jeopardy. Double jeopardy refers to the failure of a food plot, both nutritionally and monetarily. Double jeopardy is when a food plot fails to produce enough high protein food to significantly affect the deer herd, which in turn renders the manager’s money investment into the food plot meaningless. This Double jeopardy can be caused by numerous events but usually the cause is either climatic or an incorrect planting procedure. Double jeopardy is very unfortunate to the person relying on food plots to elevate his/her deer herds nutritional status, because during droughts and other extreme climatic events are when a deer herd needs that extra supplementation the most. Extreme climatic events are the true test of any supplementation program. While in route to completing my master’s degree, I once had a wildlife professor tell me that if something is true, then it should also be true when it is subjected to infinite proportions. What he meant by this was, if anything is true it should remain true in the most extreme possible conditions.

By applying this statement to the subject at hand the argument becomes clearer. No one is arguing that under the right conditions a food plot can benefit a deer herd. However, will it benefit a deer herd if you experience a drought, flood, extreme heat, extreme cold or a variation/combination of all the above? This statement may seem out of place in an article about supplemental feeding, but I think it enlightens us to the conclusion that food plots can not be depended on to consistently provide your deer herd with increased levels of protein during all possible climatic conditions. Conversely, using protein feeds, as your method of supplementation requires no destruction of native plants, no expensive farm equipment, no extensive knowledge of farming practices, and assures you that your deer herd will be provided with optimal nutrition during all possible seasons and climatic conditions.

The last and most sensitive subject in the debate of pellets vs. plots is morality. There are some people stating that food plots are the natural way to increase your deer herd’s nutritional status. One of the most common sentiments I hear on the subject is that food plots are more ethical than pouring protein feeds out of a bag. Whenever I am confronted with this statement, I gently remind that person that if they really think about it, food plots come from a bag too. That, of course, is the emotional approach, however emotions do not change the facts. And the facts about pellets vs. plots are that they are both unnatural. Of course the next obvious question is, at what degree of unnaturalness does a method become wrong. To complicate things even further I will draw an analogy, a glass of water is either pure or contaminated. It can have one drop of arsenic in it or it could be ¾ full of arsenic, it doesn’t matter how much arsenic is mixed in, the water is still contaminated.

So as you can see there is no clear right or wrong on this subject. What I believe a person must do is weigh all the evidence and find what works best for them, both nutritionally and economically. We can assume that the top producing whitetail ranches have done just that. Most of these are ranches are in the commercial hunting industry and are in the business of consistently producing record class animals. By researching the management techniques of these ranches, I believe you will see that a high percentage of them use protein feeds in some form or fashion. Of course, there are plenty of tremendous bucks taken on lands that do not use protein pellets or do not have a supplemental feeding program at all. However, take a look at the ranches that consistently produce huge bucks year after year, those are ranches you want to learn from.

Once a deer manager has decided to use a supplemental feeding program to help his/her deer herd, that manager must also decide which method of supplementation fits best into their management program. By researching and evaluating the facts before making a decision, you might just get those big bucks out of your dreams and into your crosshairs.

Written By:
Don Draeger
Wildlife Biologist
Legends Ranch

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About bebeebill

I have a passion for the great outdoors. I love to take kids hunting for the first time. I broker Texas ranches in between.
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