Fall cover crops can be an ideal option to lure deer away from stored hay and feed purchased or prepared for livestock, though a new study from South Dakota State University aims to determine which crops are most effective at pacifying hungry deer.
Related: Think Like A Varmint on Your Farm
SDSU Department of Natural Resource Management Distinguished Professor Jonathan Jenks and graduate student Troy Wieberg are leaders of the study, which is supported by a three-year grant for nearly $90,000 from the Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration through the state.
The study centers on Eastern South Dakota, which provides sufficient fall moisture, according to Kevin Robling, big game biologist for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.
In addition, it has the potential to experience lots of issues with deer depredation during severe winters.
Preventing depredation, reducing density
Often the severity of the weather determines the severity of deer depredation, Robling explained.
"We're coming off years of peak harvest and peak population," he said, noting high deer numbers from 2007 through 2011. However, a combination of factors including liberal antlerless harvest, disease and severe winters has reduced the population below management objectives, he explained.
The majority of the issues occur when large herds of 100-200 deer eat stored livestock feed, especially hay and distillers grains.
The idea of the study is that cover crops may prevent depredation and redistribute deer densities, Robling said. Once researchers identify the most palatable forage types, state wildlife agencies may plant crops to attract deer to state-owned lands that are open to public hunting and potentially lure deer away from areas where they may cause problems.
Robling estimated that no-till drills could handle crops, such as sorghum and rye, and radishes can be sown using a broadcast spreader on the back of four-wheeler and then worked in with a drag.
"We're not talking about large tracts," Robling said, with most cover plots in the range of three to five acres. "Deer are going to go for the candy bar and we're trying to provide that."
Selecting cover crops
For the research project, Jenks and Wieberg planted six cover crops -- purple top turnips, Daikon radishes, Austrian winter peas, winter rye, chicory and crimson clover -- at the Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences Research Facility. The deer are then allowed to forage on the crops.
Related: Hunters On Your Land May Pay Off
Preliminary results showed that turnips and radishes are the top two choices followed by peas, according to Jenks. "These provide high crude protein and moderate to high digestibility."
When the results are compiled, Jenks will give wildlife officials recommendations regarding how cover crops can be used to help manage the state's deer population.