Annual Forages

In a previous article, we talked about establishing first time food plots.

We discussed our recommendation to dedicate your first year of establishment concentrating on weed control.

We also recommended an annual forage as your choice in creating a successful food plot. This allows you to properly deal with weed issues

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You can reference this article by following the link below.

Trophy Withetail Deer Hunting

This food plot installment is going to discuss several annual forage choice options you can utilize in your first year.

Assuming you have followed the previous articles advice regarding the use of the first year to employ extensive spring and early summer weed control strategies, you now need to make some decisions about what to plant in late summer or early fall.

In northern range areas, annual plants are really the best choice for those late July, early August plantings. Already in early September, soil temperatures begin dropping, which in turn decreases growth rates, however, annual forages spend very little time establishing a root system and most of the growth energy goes into above ground plant production. In northern ranges, late summer planted annuals will produce more high-energy forage than perennial plantings for fall deer use.

Depending on your climate, soils and plot location, there is quite a variety of forages you can choose from, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll highlight the forages we have used in Minnesota and Canada.

Soybeans, forage oats, rapeseed, chicory and ryegrass

After many years of experimentation, our fine-tuned annual forages include; soybeans, forage oats, rapeseed, chicory and ryegrass.


Ryegrass has its place, but you should take some caution in using it. First of all, be sure it’s the annual variety and not perennial. Secondly, while you can use it as a nurse crop, ( an annual forage to be used with a perennial to come up quickly while the perennials are growing), only use one pound per acre, and again, be sure it’s the annual variety. Ryegrass can be aggressive and does have some reputation for being difficult to get rid of, if you plant the perennial variety. My preferred use for annual ryegrass are those small, hard to get to spots, and we use it on our four-wheeler trails to provide some forage availability and some grass cover on the trails, as it is more shade tolerant than other options.


Deer simply love to dine on soybeans while they are green and growing. When the plant gets brown and the energy is going into the soybeans themselves, they don’t hit it quite as hard. But late in the season, they really start hitting the soybean fields again after the snow flies. Soybeans are more applicable to larger plots, as small half-acre or less planting get devoured before they can be used as a late season source. A good option though if you have a plot in that two acre or larger size though. Better suited to a spring planting for optimum growth and development, soybeans can be an alternative summer planting – but I have found other options more desirable.


Forage oats are one of those desirable options. It remains surprisingly green well into the early winter and deer absolutely love it, and will seek out the forage even under a blanket of snow. I would imagine the plant staying green longer suggests it also retains its’ tenderness better than other oat or wheat options which are brown come fall. Forage oats should be a certain “must try”. Ranking it in attraction and utilization on our farm: number two.


Chicory is actually reputed to be a perennial plant, and does indeed come up again the second year after planting, but not as prominent as the first year however. Due to the cost per acre for seed, (around fifty dollars an acre), I just opt to replant if I decide to plant a plot into two consecutive years of late summer planted annuals. Chicory has worked very well in forage production and as an attractant throughout the entire fall. It’s rank: number three.


Rape is in the brassica family, along with turnips and kale, and for my dollar, on our farm I like the rapeseed. In most cases, deer will not use the forage until after the first hard frost, they may nibble on it some, but don’t prefer the rapeseed until late in the year. This provides a late season hunting opportunity, along with a forage which can last well into the winter on larger plots. Six to eight pounds per acre is recommended and some of the preferred varieties are Drawf Essox, Hunter, Winfred, Giant and Rangi.. Seeding rapeseed too early can actually curtail winter availability, as the plant matures too early, hardens and deer simply don’t like it. Most years, the first week of August is go time to plant rapeseed. If you plant right away in the spring, the plant matures during mid-summer, which then demands a mowing, and rapeseed does not come back well after being mowed. One disadvantage to this forage is if deer don’t winter on your farm it may not see much use. Better options in that case would be the chicory or the forage oats. Rank on our farm though: Number one.

For more information on how we use annuals in our newer plots to create long lasting success see article.

Determining which annual forage to use is based mostly on preference established by trial and error. Simply experiment with different forages and see what forages your deer herd prefers.. Starting with these annual forage choices should provide you a good foundation to build from. For small tract landowners, food plots can and do work to attract and hold deer to your property and well worth the investment in time and energy.

I really favor annuals for early plotting, but it depends on your location of your plot and soil type. These are additional things to consider when planning your deer food plots.

Dr. Judy McFarlen Veterinarian, Alberta Rancher, and publisher of Deer Food Plots Made Easy, Dr. Judy McFarlen has helped a large number of novice and experienced deer food plotters establish and improve their whitetail deer food plots.

From deer food plot location strategies to seed selection, this text is a nuts and bolts kind of reading. It is guaranteed to make sense to even to the most inexperienced grower.