by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
Easter is only a few weeks away! It is almost time to get spring planting under way (Easter is a good marker for the perfect conditions for spring planting). Hopefully, landowners and hunters have been contemplating which wildlife forages they would like to get in the ground. I have one more group of crops I would like to quickly discuss…GRAINS! Grains are a very important source of protein (of course) but also carbs and fat gains before winter. The most important grains are corn and grain sorghum (known as milo to the old timers).
Corn is a tough old broad to grow. It is very susceptible to drought, weeds, and overgrazing. But, if you can put up some kind of electric fencing and plant a roundup ready seed, you will greatly increase the crop’s chances of success. I cannot think of one creature that does not crave corn. It is a grain that requires a lot of land and a lot of moisture to grow. I know from experience that this crop takes a lot of patience; my grandfather has had a 60 acre corn patch in Monroeville, AL that has never failed. Yes, some years have looked better than others, which is in fact true. But, that corn patch is proof that with the help of an electric fence and weed maintenance, it is possible to have a successful stand of corn. Corn is very important for animals that need to gain a few pounds before the weather gets cold again. It is a great source of carbohydrates and fat reserves (along with acorns), and it would even satisfy your palate as well!
Grain sorghum is another important warm season grain for wildlife. It is quite the opposite of corn. It is not nearly as difficult to grow and it is quite drought tolerant, but is susceptible to overgrazing (by migratory birds). This crop usually succeeds best when mixed with soybeans or cowpeas or another legume. The legume actually helps the grain sorghum grow and helps fertilize (because legumes are nitrogen fixers) the crop. The mixture provides a “buffet” for wildlife, therefor making it very desirable to many species. To avoid overgrazing by migratory birds, it is best to invest in bird resistant varieties of this seed. This variety contains a component that makes the crop undesirable to birds and deer until it reaches a certain threshold in the growth cycle. The component, tannic acid, becomes less potent as the plant matures and becomes more palatable to wildlife. This ecological characteristic protects this crop from overgrazing before it ever matures, which is very beneficial to the planter! If you plant this crop correctly and within a mixture of legumes, it is sure to provide your deer herd with the supplemental nutrition they need to gear up for winter again.
I am not a soil scientist, but I do know that if you want successful spring food plots, you must lime appropriately and you must plant crops that are both palatable and desirable to the wildlife inhabiting your land. On the other hand, those crops must be able to sustain the weather conditions and must be suitable for your soil zone. As I have said before, it may take a few attempts to hit every nail on the head, but that will make your next harvest that much more meaningful. There is a lot of pride and joy behind harvesting an animal that you grew yourself. So, jump in!
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