Imagine a food crop that you could eat several times while it’s growing…then come back later and get some decent nutrition by digging up the roots.
That is, essentially, what a deer gets out of a turnip.
The turnip, whose scientific name is Brassica rapa, is one of those gold-plated deer forages in the brassica family. Turnips have the reputation for being a humble crop, but they’re a critical part of many deer food plot stands.
You’ll want to seed turnip in the late summer in northern climates; locations farther south can get away with early fall seedings. Peak forage growth for most varieties is 60-90 days, with the best leaf nutrition coming about six weeks after planting.
Turnips will keep growing after the first grazing—that is, if the point where the turnip greens grow, located at the tops of the roots, isn’t removed. This is why it’s important to offer other crops in the food plot mix besides turnip, especially crops like cool-season grasses that can be managed for early fall deer forage. The idea is to let the deer get a nibble of the turnip while there are still other things to eat. Then, when there aren’t as many other forage options, the deer will return to graze the turnip. Like other brassicas, turnips promote this feeding habit naturally as the turnip greens can taste more bitter before frost.
At my ranch, I’ve seen turnip stay green well into the winter and even be available underneath the snow. Deer can also dig up the turnips for nutrition in the mid-winter.
Agronomists have selected lines of brassica rapa that are best suited for grazing. Be sure to use a grazing variety when you put turnip into your deer food plot mix. Then watch turnips become a part of your whitetail food plot that you’ll wonder why you never tried before.