As natural wild foods decline with cold weather, deer feed more and more heavily on cereal grain crops such as oats, rye and wheat. Though oats might die off in bitter cold conditions, the other two typically produce forage right into spring, when perennials such as clover and more natural forage become available. The more deer eat cereal grains down, the more they produce fresh, tender growth. If the plants turn yellow or struggle, a shot of nitrogen (46-0-0) will bring them back strong.
These are some of the earliest plants food plotters used both to provide nutrition for deer and to lure them out in the open for a shot (they’re still good at that). If the grains grow too tall, you can mow them down to produce fresh tender regrowth. These plants can produce forage from late summer into March for a long eight-month period of availability.
Planting Dates: July through November
Rye: Rye rates high for its ease of growing and cold tolerance. It also does well in poor-quality, acidic soils, but does not like wet areas. It suppresses weeds with its dense mat growth and by producing allelopathic chemicals. But its protein level (12 to 16 percent) and taste appeal are beaten by the other cereal contenders.
Oats: Originally from Europe, Iraq and Turkey, oats rate highest for palatability and are easy to grow, but usually won’t survive Northern winters. They also do best with a 6.0 pH, potentially adding liming costs. Protein level is 15 to 25 percent. Mixing early maturing and cold tolerant oat varieties offers the best way to provide long-lasting fall-through-spring plots.
Wheat: This grain is cheap, easy to grow, cold-hardy, highly palatable and drought-tolerant, with good protein content (12 to 24 percent). That combination puts wheat at the top of the list among cereals.
After producing through fall and winter, wheat continues to nourish deer during early spring, starting bucks off on a good protein level as the first stages of antler growth get under way. Mow if it gets too tall during winter, add urea if the plot turns yellowish. That’s all the care required. Wheat is found in most wildlife seed companies’ fall/winter blends.
Winner: Wheat. Runner-up: Oats.