Regenerative Wildlife Agriculture
The principles of soil health have positive, compounding effects on all wildlife species. The time-tested, synergistic relationships between soil, plants and herbivores are paramount to a functional ecosystem. Everything in nature is interconnected and inter-related.
Modern food plotting began in the 1930’s, coinciding with restocking efforts of white-tailed deer and turkeys, when state game managers planted wildlife openings on public hunting tracts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. These openings were primarily dominated by monoculture stands of clover. One could argue, from a herbivores perspective, that the commercial side of food plotting really hasn’t evolved much since these early trials of low species diversity.
Food plots are extremely popular amongst sportsmen. The commercialization of food plot products has resulted in a narrowly focused race for “improved” varieties while sacrificing plant species diversity and nutrient density. The shift from high species diversity to large scale monocultures and low diversity food plot systems has resulted in plant landscapes that lack a broad selection of primary and secondary compounds. Like modern agriculture, modern food plotting relies too heavily on soil disturbance (including tillage), heavy herbicide and synthetic fertilizer use, and monoculture cropping systems with simple rotations. Deer and other wildlife thrive on diversity, yet we’ve eliminated it from their habitats.
Many food plot products produced in bulk consist of fewer than 7 different species/plant types and are developed in the absence of a calculated species selection approach. Products on the shelves of box stores fail to incorporate major complementary plant types and synergistic species combinations. The answer lies in planting diverse cocktail mixes in well-thought-out blends that seek species complementariness and offer maximum soil and animal health. This diversity of plant compounds, when available, offers wildlife a complex nutritional profile with nutritive, antioxidant and medicinal values. Biochemically diverse foodscapes are necessary in order for wildlife to reproduce and fend off disease, parasites and predation.
Diverse cocktails should include the right species and proportions of legumes, grasses, forbs, brassicas and other broadleaf plants that tighten in-field nutrient cycles and allow “food plotters” to rely less on the heavy use of synthetic fertilizers.
The momentous paradigm shift in recent years surrounding soil health, food production, and agriculture has offered a promising outlook for all wildlife species; from honey bees to white-tailed deer. All terrestrial and aquatic wild life, from sub-aquatic micro-organisms to large, free range herbivores, proliferate in the wake of farming in nature’s image.
Herbivores possess the ability to self-medicate and manage parasite loads by consuming diverse plants and plant parts rich in phytochemicals. Unfortunately, we’re not making these options available. Monoculture systems that lack species diversity are void of medicinal and anti-parasitic benefits, resulting in low productivity and even disease. Novel plants that are sold as “cover crops” for agricultural systems offer the diversity needed in wildlife food plots. For optimal nutrient utilization in growth and reproduction, deer demand a broad selection of plants that are readily available. Cover crops and native plants clearly offer beneficial synergies that allow them to complement one another.
When free range animals are presented with diverse cocktail blends to complement native plants, they appear to possess the ability to optimize their diets with nutritional wisdom. This foraging option affords deer the opportunity to balance potential toxicities in their diets, ultimately leading to higher reproductive rates, larger antlers at maturity and healthier populations, overall.
After two decades of private wildlife consulting, I have never been as excited about an advancement as I am about regenerative wildlife agriculture (RWA). Diverse plantscapes resulting from the establishment of cocktail blends no longer force animals to disperse in search of needed concentrations of vitamins, minerals, energy, and protein as well as primary and secondary plant compounds.