UF Experts Help Southeastern Hunters Get Their Money's Worth From Wildlife Forages
MARIANNA, Fla. — If you plant it, they will come. Maybe.
Do-it-yourself wildlife forages have recently gained popularity with deer hunters looking for an easy way to ensure a supply of trophy bucks, but University of Florida agronomy experts say buyers don’t always get the performance they pay for.
“Not every forage crop grows well in every climate,” said Ann Blount, assistant professor at UF’s North Florida Research and Education Center in Marianna. “Unfortunately, some producers overlook this fact and sell the same product in every market. Some hunters end up with forages that won’t tolerate local conditions.”
With deer season largely closed throughout the Southeast, Blount and other UF experts are monitoring about 20 commercial cool-season forage blends planted in locations around Florida to evaluate their yield, quality and cost per acre. Hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts use the blends to grow food for animals during winter months.
“As a yardstick for comparison, we’ve also planted mixtures of forage grasses and legumes developed jointly by UF and the University of Georgia,” she said. “Because our varieties were developed specifically for Florida growing conditions, they perform better for us.”
Blount, along with UF horticultural specialist Steve Olson and UF forage specialists Ken Quesenberry, Ron Barnett and Gordon Prine, has released recommendations for several wildlife blends that can be assembled with Florida and Georgia varieties available at many feed stores, she said. Named “UF Best Bang for Your Buck,” “UF Double Threat” and “UF Triple Threat,” the blends should be suitable for light, sandy soils throughout the Southeast.
In future trials, UF researchers will seek data on the nutritional value and “appetite appeal” of the blends, said Ken Quesenberry, agronomy professor at the UF campus in Gainesville.
“There isn’t much hard data on these subjects, and we’d like to generate some because there’s plenty of public interest,” he said. “Our county extension agents get inquiries all the time from hunters who want to know which forages perform best in Florida. We’ve also been contacted by private companies.”
Pennington Seed, the world’s largest producer of wildlife forages, already markets blends developed for soil and climate conditions found in specific states and may eventually add Florida to the list, said John Carpenter, national sales manager of forage and wildlife products.
“We depend on return business, so we want to make sure our products really meet the customers’ needs,” he said.
While commercialization remains only a possibility, some hunters already use the UF blends. In cooperation with UF researchers, employees of Neal Land and Timber near Blountstown, Fla., are using “Best Bang for Your Buck” on a 20,000-acre tract the company maintains, said Emory Godwin, wildlife management officer.
“We’ve tried other forages before, but this one has gotten the most response from wildlife,” he said. “We’ll keep using it.”
Ideally, forages should be palatable to wildlife but not irresistible, said Donald Lee Francis, area wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Francis is based at Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area, a 10,500-acre state-managed tract that includes 80 acres of cool-season forage and also hosts UF forage trials.
“You don’t want to plant something that’s so delicious it’s like putting out a bowl of ice cream,” he said. “If that happens, the deer will completely obliterate it right away. You want forage that will supplement their natural diet when they need it.”
The UF blends are used to establish “nutrition plots” that support long-term herd health, rather than “attractant plots” meant to bring animals to specific areas, Olson said.
“In the last few years, hunters have become more interested in ways to improve wildlife habitat, and establishing nutrition plots is one way to do it,” he said. “Animals get most of the benefits from these cool-season forages after hunting season ends, so it represents an investment.”
UF researchers also are studying warm-season forages, which are planted in spring or early summer to produce high-quality forage during the summer and benefit hunters when deer seasons open in the fall. The wildlife forage research is part of the North Florida Forage Program, a cooperative effort between UF and the University of Georgia to develop better cattle forages.
- Tom Nordlie, email@example.com
- Ann Blount
- Ken Quesenberry
- Steve Olson