IL Whitetail 0016

How can you enfold tree plantings with your food plot program?  David Osborn explains in this third entry from his speech to the ODMA conference a while back.

Deer orchards are cheaper to install and maintain over the long haul as compared to other food plots.  They do not require installing and maintaining.  There is a lot of work up front but you do not have to plow the ground year after year.  Once you put them in that is your major investment of time.

The first couple of years you need to release them from grass complications.  Grass competes for water and soil nutrition.  Later on you may need to provide some fertilization.  But, maintenance is pretty low.

Some people plant an orchard and walk away from it.  Those orchards are seldom successful.  It is a commitment once you put in an orchard.  This is especially so for the first 2-3 years.  You still have to water some during drought periods.

“The amount of food that is available on the ground at any given time determines when deer come and use it,” according to Osborn.  Particularly mature bucks.  He reports, “They are more likely to come and eat from a small bait pile during the day than from a large one, according to a Michigan State study.”  The probable reason is a large bait pile, where there is plenty of food, teaches them there is plenty of food and they can come back after dark.  With a small bait pile if they wait, does and other wildlife will come and eat the food.  When the bucks get there at night it is all gone.

The same applies to orchards.  If you have trees that drop a lot of fruit over a short period they are going to feed nocturnally.  If you have something that drops a little bit of fruit over a long time then they are going to check it more frequently.

Large orchards put too much fruit on the ground at one time and are harder to hunt.  With small orchards you know where to look for deer to appear.  It is easier to get a feel for their travel patterns from bedding cover to the food source.  With a larger orchard they have too many options.

By isolating trees you cut down on the possibility of tree diseases transferring from tree to tree.

How does a tree orchard affect deer nutrition?  Most people think that dietary protein is the most important element in a deer’s diet.  It is important but the truth is that use more dietary energy than anything else except water.  Dietary energy is particularly important in summer and fall.  They need enough reserves to get them through the winter.  By planting a fibrous food source you help them get dietary energy to get through those times of the year.

Bourse (roughage) takes 14-19 hours to digest in a deer and does not provide dietary energy.   But if they have access to high energy food sources like acorns or fruits to help buffer the effect of the roughage it speeds up digestion so they can eat more food.  They can eat more of these high energy foods and better meet their energy needs over time.

Natural oak stands are typically not consistent producers of acorns.  You can improve production by having multiple species of oak.  Still during poor acorn years the deer still have a difficult time getting enough quality food to overcome the effects of low quality browse.

The acorn production can vary from one pound per acre to 800 pounds per acre.  You need from 90 to 108 pounds of acorns per acre per deer.  Deer will continually search for acorns even after all the viable ones are gone.

The time to have supplemental fruit forage is when they are searching for acorns.   The most valued use of a tree orchard is to compliment other food management practices.

Take an inventory of high energy food sources on your property.  With places like oat fields and clear cuts, take into account sources like food trees, berries, and high quality fruits.  Take into account all this food and identify times of the year when there is a nutritional gap.  Consider using tree orchards to fill the nutritional gaps.   Even if you do not find obvious gaps, it still may be just what is required to lure that big buck out of the brush and give you a shot at him.

Your local nursery can supply some of the domestic varieties that available.  You can select ones to fit the time requirement gaps in your nutritional needs.  There are varieties that produce fruit, early, middle or late.  Select trees that spread out food availability.

Do your homework and make sure these varieties will do well in your climate and area.



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  1. Pingback: SOFT MAST ORCHARDS FOR DEER | Don Gasaway's Blog

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