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Whitetail Q&A.

The following questions were submitted by readers for consideration by Dr. James Kroll. If you have questions pertaining to whitetail behavior, habitat management or food plots, send your inquiries to


My 60-acre farm is in southern Michigan, and I want to add more security cover to hold deer on it. I've heard switchgrass is recommended for increasing cover quickly. Is this really a good choice? If so, which varieties are best? We have pretty fertile lowland soils.

Switchgrass is included among the group of grasses referred to as "panic" grasses. The scientific name for the most commonly planted variety is Panicum virgatum. The panic grasses are among the few eaten by whitetails, mostly in the early, cool-season stages of growth. They range in height from a few inches to several feet, depending on the species. Switchgrass grows very quickly, making it an excellent reclamation plant. There are many varieties of switchgrass, among which are Alamo, Kanlow, Blackwell, Nebraska 28, Shelter and Trailblazer. Consult your local USDA officials or county agents for the variety best suited to your area.

I have used switchgrass in your area for rapid development of cover, but I primarily use it as an intermediate step in the production of woody cover, most notably conifers. Although switch-grass might be preferred in the western whitetail range--states not dominated by forests--it is better to plant trees in heavily forested areas like Michigan.


In Michigan and other Great Lakes states, pines (red and white) grow quickly in comparison to firs and spruce. I prefer to make a mixed planting of red pine and spruce-fir for winter cover, and red or white pine only for summer cover. The pines planted for winter cover rapidly grow above the more shade-tolerant spruce and fir, which also are slow growing. This ultimately produces a stand that can provide effective thermal cover for whitetails during both snow-laden winter months and hot summer months.

Recently another hunter told me "brassica poisoning" is a health concern for whitetails in some management situations. I've used brassicas in my food plots here in the Northeast for many years and haven't noticed them causing any problems for my deer. I also plant a lot of other types of forage, and the native habitat is pretty healthy overall. Is brassica poisoning really something to be worried about in this situation?

Are brassicas a serious problem? I have to give one of those answers the general public hates to hear from a biologist: "That depends." Feeding deer, either by a ration or by a food plot is a relatively new endeavor. There is very little science behind any of the techniques being used. Unfortunately, problems occurring from some practices with wild deer are not as easily discovered as they are with domestic livestock.

Brassicas include forage turnips, rape, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes and swede. Brassicas for deer first came to prominence following word that these plants were being cultivated on New Zealand deer farms for venison production.

Most textbooks on forage management will point out that grazing brassicas requires careful management. A diet consisting solely of brassicas can cause haemolytic anemia and various metabolic problems. The culprits involve at least two chemicals--S-methycysteine sulphoxide (SMCO) and glucosinolates. Over-eating of these plants can result in a host of really scary conditions.

I am not saying brassicas do not have any place as a supplemental forage, only that managers should be aware of some issues arising from their use and should develop a sound management strategy that incorporates these concerns.

It is important to use mineral supplementation when grazing brassicas. Potential for brassica toxicity increases if animals are allowed to graze predominantly on stunted, low-growing or purple brassicas. By "purple" I do not mean like a turnip. Rather, brassicas planted on poor soils often turn purple or yellowish as a result of nutrient deficiencies. Brassicas require large amounts of nutrients, especially trace elements such as boron, manganese, molybdenum and iron.

You note something very significant in your question. You are planting other crops, as well as the brassicas. I recommend if you plant brassicas, be sure there are other crops--cereal grains, clovers and chicory--for your deer to eat. The amount of brassicas consumed is directly related to the abundance of both native and cultivated forages. If you have a diversity of both, reasonably sized brassica plots should not have as big of a potential impact. My primary concerns have revolved around monocultural plantings of these plants.

For many years I've been putting out granular mineral supplement for the deer on my land. They seem to like the stuff; in fact, over time they actually paw out big holes where I've been putting it. However, I've noticed deer seem to visit these locations a lot more in hot weather than in the fall or winter. Is this normal?

Yes, this is normal for deer. Bucks and does tend to use mineral stations at different times of year, depending on their needs. We did the original work on minerals, and unfortunately, neither I nor any other scientist has been able to document their benefits. In spite of this, however, I still use minerals in my management programs. Does tend to seek sodium, phosphorus and other macro- and micro-nutrients when they are nursing. The amount of mineral used is indeed influenced by heat and growing conditions. Forages high in water content lead to higher mineral use, as do higher temperatures.

In most cases, native vegetation or well-fertilized food plots provide these elements and compounds naturally. The minerals used by bucks to mineralize their antlers normally come from their flat bones, using mineral stores developed in previous years. The best way to supplement your herd's mineral needs is through sound native forage management and fertilization of native and cultivated crops.

There always is a disease concern to anything that draws deer to a specific location over a long period of time. Parasites also can be spread through such practices. If you use minerals, I strongly suggest you use a metal mineral tray, which can be sanitized periodically with bleach water.

I've used buckwheat in some of my spring food plots here in Missouri, and the deer seem to like it. However, it doesn't last very long before it plays out. Am I doing something wrong?

You are not doing anything wrong! The period from when you plant buckwheat until it flowers and matures is only 10-12 weeks. It does not compete well with heavy deer grazing, so I seldom recommend it for a deer plot. It is best planted for waterfowl during mid-summer for fall attraction. I have noticed buckwheat is a "phosphorus hog," so you will need to fertilize heavily is you continue to plant it. I suggest you go with a fall planting of cereal grains, legumes such as clover and chicory. The clover and chicory will persist into summer and you will be much happier.

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Title Annotation:Dr.Deer's Whitetail World
Author:Kroll, James C.
Publication:North American Whitetail
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
Previous Article:North American Hall of fame Whitetail.
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