|Oats are Forage Favorite for Deer|
Oats have to be my favorite food-plot food. Even though they are considered to be in the small grain family, they offer big forage gains over the course of hunting season.
Prepare for Planting
When the weather conditions are suitable and rainfall is adequate, oats show prolific, grassy growing during the early stages making the forage ideal for early deer season. Weather and rainfall we can’t control. However, we can control the right amount of fertilizer and lime so the oats will make optimum growth. The only way to do this accurately is through a soil test.
For the cost of a bag of fertilizer, a soil analysis can be conducted showing you the exact amount of fertilizer and lime, if any, is needed. If lime is needed, spread the lime and plow it in a few weeks before you plant so it will have time to begin neutralizing the soil.
Don’t be surprised if the soil report comes back recommending at least three tons of lime per acre if it is a wooded food plot that hasn’t been in agricultural cultivation. Bulk lime is by far cheaper than pelletized lime, so it might be worth your time to widen access roads allowing a spreader truck entrance into your food plots.
The soil test report will indicate how many pounds of fertilizer or lime to add per acre. With this in mind, it’s important to know just how many acres you are planting. Some GPS units have an acreage calculator, but if you are not technologically inclined and have to guess, remember to visualize a football field without the end zones. This is approximately the size of an acre.
In Alabama, the most common times for planting are during September and October. However, if you are running late on planting due to excess rain amounts or missed a few ideal Saturdays because your favorite college football team was playing, November plantings can offer tender, grassy stage grazing for deer as well.
If the soil pH is in order, make sure the oats have adequate nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen is the nutrient that makes grasses grow green and grow fast, but too much of a good thing can burn the plants. Follow the soil test report precisely when planting.
If you plant oats alone, the planting rate is around 90 to 100 pounds per acre. With a companion crop, like clover, the amount lowers to 60 to 90 pounds per acre. Since most food plots are in remote areas, it may be difficult to bring in a seed drill, and broadcasting may be the best method of sowing seeds.
I always include a companion crop like clover. The roots of the clover fix nitrogen making even more growth promoting nutrients available to the oats. In addition, many of the cool-season clovers make their best growth in early spring. This allows the crop to serve double-duty for deer as well as turkeys. The turkeys can enjoy the maturing seed heads of the oats and get the benefits of tender clover leaves that are producing.
Clover seeds are tiny and expensive. Even though the typical rate for planting clover is around four pounds per acre, one ripped bag can result in a huge monetary loss. I remedy this situation by using a 64-ounce juice bottle that has been washed and dried. One juice bottle holds approximately four pounds of clover seed. Use a small funnel to pour the clover seeds into the juice bottle.
Another advantage to oats is the easy stand establishment. Once there is a good stand growing, weed competition is kept to a minimum. If weeds do appear, a broadleaf herbicide can be used to control them. Herbicides like 2-4D will kill most broadleaf weeds, and in some cases, if you have the oats growing in conjunction with white clover, the clover may still survive.
I’ve spoken with cattle producers who say 2-4D will kill their broadleaf weeds and only stunt or burn the clover, and ultimately the clover can bounce back. I’ve tried this myself. I sprayed a mixture of 2-4D trying to kill a few stands of white clover growing in a fescue and bermuda grass mixed field. The 2-4D stunted the clover, but it didn’t kill it. I would recommend trying this on a small area to make sure before spraying entire fields in an attempt to control weeds and keep the clovers.
Oats are highly palatable to deer, and the grass and seed heads offer high-quality protein. Once the oats go from grassy stage to creating stalks and seed heads, cover for the deer is provided by high profile stalks. Deer are more likely to enter fields with cover that is chest high as compared with ankle-high growth.
Oats offer green growth over the course of winter and early spring providing deer and turkeys plenty of forage, especially when mixed with a clover variety. However, once summer appears and the growing season ends, the stalks continue to provide cover and potential bedding areas.
When late August rolls around, I mow the remaining stalks and seed heads to provide an ideal dove shoot. Many of the remaining seed heads, with proper timed mowing, will make soil contact and grow again. I once had three productive years of oat growth with one planting as a result of carefully timing the mowing of the mature seed heads.
A stand of clover like Durana White, red clover or arrowleaf clover will also continue to come back for a few years if cared for properly. If you know it is possible to get more than one year of growth from your plowing and planting, it will make you fertilize and plant that first stand carefully.
Oat seeds are relatively inexpensive and the leaves of most varieties are considerably wider than those of other small grains. Wider leaves mean more forage production, and this means less money and more grazing.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.