Jason Wenzel - Property Management
1) Winter Bulbs. Most people are aware of the use of turnips as a winter energy source for wildlife but there are other overlooked options. Here are some forages to consider. Sugar beets, fodder beets, Rutabaga, Swedes, Radish, Golden ball turnips, and New York turnips. The top growth give us nutritious forage during cold periods and when the above ground growth is consumed, we still have bulbs in the ground that the wildlife can paw out of the ground. Another advantage of winter bulbs is they make excellent antler shed areas. The bucks tend to drop their antlers in these plots as they are pawing for their energy source.
2) Alfalfa, trefoil and sainfoin. So many people are aware of the use of clovers as a perennial forage source, but there is better alternative legume sources for winter forage. Alfalfa I especially like as an all season perennial source because of it's ability to produce as much as 2-3 times more tonnage per acre as most clovers. The alfalfa can stand more vertical and the forage doesn't mat down to ground as much as clovers. Believe it or not, there also is a lot of nutritional value on those stems of alfalfa you see that are brown and dry but still standing in the fields. Think bales hay.
If someone has a large enough perennial plot that contains a decent amount of alfalfa in it, you should be clipping it 3-4 times per year. One overlooked option would be to have a neighbor come in and round bale the clipped forage and leave the round bales at the end of the field/plot. This makes the ultimate winter stockpiled forage. Top quality alfalfa hay will meet or exceed an animals daily requirements for protein, minerals and energy.
3) Sorghums and millets. Grain sorghum and other forage sorghums that produce seed heads can become a valuable winter energy source. Many people plant these products for screening and cover and they are typically not touched by deer and wildlife when there is plenty of browse and available forages. Once the big snow falls hit or everything else stops growing, this can be a great emergency feed source. Millets a lot of people are aware of their use in the wild bird industry but don't overlook their use for cover and winter energy for wildlife.
4) Fencing your plots. A number of people use fencing options to minimize grazing pressure on their soybean plots but this practice can be done for any type of forage. I am aware of 1 client in northern Wisconsin who keeps the deer out of his food plots until October and this is something to consider. Run a solar fencer around 1 plot that you consider a stockpiled forage area and don't give them that forage until all surrounding forages are done. Maybe this could be a winter bulb/brassica mix plot that you keep them out of it until November or December.
Another fencing alternative would be to use a little trick that the rotational grazing community uses and that is to only give deer part of a plot at a time. Run a fence around your plot and then instead of taking it all down and letting them run through that whole plot, give them sections of it at a time. This minimizes over grazing. This could be practices in the spring, summer or fall. The advantage of this would be to help encourage regrowth of your perennial plots or even soybean plots. If you don't let them take that available forage right to the ground, you will speed up plot recovery time and the end result would be more growth per year and more available forage to the deer.
In the end, the goal should be to produce as much forage and energy on your land to keep the wildlife on your land. Sound management practices could lead you to produce 25-50% more feed. Instead of more acres, maybe you first need to maximize your available feeds per acre.