When it comes to forage crops that can grow in the late summer and the fall, you have to talk brassicas.
Unlike cool-season grasses, the growth of brassicas isn’t as affected by the cooler fall weather and shorter periods of daylight. At my ranch, I’ve found that brassica crops are some of the best performers for whitetail and mule deer food plots.
Remember the importance of protein in the deer diet in Deer Management?
Well, brassicas are typically 16-18 percent “crude protein”—that’s nearly the same level as a premium, warmer season forage legume such as alfalfa. Brassicas tend to be a very productive crop, and are very digestible for deer. They are seeded in the summer and then provide forage into the fall and winter.
As I’ve noted in my book, Deer Food Plots Made Easy, the neatest thing about brassicas is that they naturally repel the deer early in the season, before frost. Leaves are bitter before they’re hit by frost; after frost, they naturally sweeten as starches in the leaves are converted to sugar.
Turnips are a popular brassica crop, and are examined in more detail in a separate blog posting. Turnip is also a good example of a multi-use brassica, for deer can forage for the edible roots long after the turnip tops, or “greens,” have been eaten.
So if brassicas are such a wonder crop when it comes to deer forage, why doesn’t the deer food plot manager just plant an acre of brassicas and watch the racks roll in?
One word: fiber.
That’s right—for all their positive protein content, brassicas are notoriously low in fiber. This is a big problem in ruminant nutrition, because ruminants need proper fiber levels to keep the bacteria living in their rumens happy and productive. Sheep and cattle managers have discovered that brassicas shouldn’t make up more than about 75% of a ruminant’s diet.
So while brassicas are absolutely essential for the deer food plot, they’re not the magical “silver bullet” crop that will guarantee food plot success. That success will only come with proper deer habitat management, good crop seed mixtures, and well-thought location for your deer food plot plantings.