Dr. Deer: How to Protect Your Food Plot Using Electric Fences

Dr. Deer: How to Protect Your Food Plot Using Electric Fences

A few years back I presented our revolutionary findings about using electric fencing to manage food plots for whitetails.


The study took place in three locations: south Texas, east Texas and the northern portion of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the Turtle Lake Club.



We found our three-wire fence design increased survival of forage species, crop yields and availability of an attractive food source.

When it comes to whitetail management strategy, one of the most frequent inquiries I receive involves summer food plots. More often than not, the average land manager is going to plant a food plot in the spring, hoping to improve the nutritional plane of the resident deer and perhaps still have something growing in the plot for early-season hunting.


Unfortunately, spring plots are often reduced to weeds and dust by October, making spring plantings not worth the effort. That is, until electric fences came along.


Dr. James Kroll's research into the use of electric fences has changed how land managers view food plots in their blueprint for whitetail management. Photo by Gordon Whittington.

When it comes to whitetail food plots, there really are two seasons to consider: cool season and warm season. In the north, the "cool" season occurs in early spring and again in early fall.

In the South, however, cool season refers to the periods between early fall and early spring since southern winters seldom are cold enough to prevent some growth by food plot varieties such as cereal grains, clovers and chicory.

The "warm" season in the north ranges from late June to mid-August, and mild summers permit managers to grow crops considered "cool-season" varieties in the South.

Again, cereal grains, clover and chicory do well in these climates. In the South, warm season occurs from May to October, much longer than in the North.

Hence, food plot strategies for these two geographic areas can be quite different. Yet, there still is another factor to consider.

The physiological needs of deer vary with age, sex and season. Nutritional factors generally break down into protein, energy and minerals. Whitetails certainly require all three most of the year, but in varying amounts.

We once conducted a study in which we allowed deer to "assemble" their own diets through the year. We erected feeders, each with a different feed component, and the deer confirmed what we suspected. Does and bucks during much of the year might as well be different species!

There were significant sex-related differences in preferences for feed components, but one factor seemed to hold for all segments of the herd — digestible energy.

So, feeds high in carbohydrates and digestible plant compounds rich in energy are preferred. That is why cereal grains are so popular with your deer. They are highly digestible forms of energy.

Using this information, we decided to organize our electric fence management program to take advantage of these needs.

Why not plant crops in the spring, keep deer out of the plots most of the warm season, then open them up when the deer really need them?

By fencing deer out of the warm-season plots, we then can make better use of native forages, while "banking" our food plot for the late summer and early fall.

Osmun conducted some great experiments. At our research facility in Nacogdoches, Texas, we planted iron-and-clay cowpeas in April within electric fences. At about the same time, we planted Roundup-ready soybeans and corn at the Turtle Lake Club in Michigan, again inside fences.

In both locations, we managed to grow crops we never had been able to grow!

At Turtle Lake, we also managed to exclude bears from our food plots. By late summer, we had banked tons of high quality, high-energy foods at both sites.

By late summer, it was time to let our deer start enjoying the nutrition we had banked for them. Therein lies the greatest benefit of electric fencing for whitetail hunters.

Imagine that you are a bowhunter with a highly nutritious food source on your property when your neighbors' plots have been reduced to dust!

While your neighbor is busy planting his fall crops, deer are flocking to your plot! At the same time, you are doing something good for the deer. It is a "win-win" to me.

When coupled with whitetail management strategies such as rotation grazing and forage banking, you can see why this system is one of our best ideas since the infrared-triggered camera.

Graduate student Adam Osmun displays the difference between a food plot contained within an electric fence (left) and one open to browsing by deer and other wildlife (right). Photo courtesy of Dr. James C. Kroll.

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