If this winter ends as cold and snowy as it began, thousands of white-tailed deer across Wisconsin will not make it to see spring.
While it may be nature’s way of balancing the state’s most popular game animal with the habitat, rarely has man been one to just sit back and not try to help.
Area feed mills do a brisk business all fall from hunters who don’t have ag fields, food plots or stands of fruit- or nut-producing trees to hunt near.
Now that winter has arrived, some of those same hunters and many property owners who just want to view wildlife are placing orders or stopping in.
Straight corn is by far the most popular deer feed purchased, but custom mixes including roasted soybeans, oats, molasses and mineral are also available.
Corn has dropped in price in recent months, and is available pre-bagged at $5 to $6.50 for 50 pounds, or about $10 to $12 per hundred-pound bag.
Raw soybeans are in the $20 range per hundred pounds, with oats somewhere in between the two. Mill patrons who don’t mind paying a little more prefer roasted soybeans, about $27 per 100 pounds.
There are some pellet-type feeds available, but they tend to fall apart from moisture. Instead of pellets, some mill managers recommend good alfalfa bales. Farmers who have some for sale often advertise on bulletin boards at area hardware stores and feed mills.
Andy Barta of Rio Creek Feed Mill said straight corn kernels are the most popular item sold for wildlife feed there, with some patrons asking for cherry flavoring mixed in.
Roasted soybeans are great for deer, Barta said, but the price tends to keep many people from buying them.
Bob Christoff of Luxemburg Milling said he’s seeing more hunters purchase food in fall than ever before.
While a much smaller number of people feed the rest of the year, Christoff thinks interest may pick up this winter with lower corn prices and higher hunter concern about what could be a long winter.
Christoff said many of his customers want some molasses and deer mineral mixed with corn, and some buy calf starter — a mix of corn, oats, molasses and pellets. It sells for about $15 for a 50-pound bag.
Chad Cochart of Frank’s Feed Mill in Casco said a lot of his winter customers purchase 500 pounds of corn at a time. For his own use, Cochart prefers a custom mix with corn, soybeans, oats, molasses and mineral.
“We mix it right here from bulk, any way you want it,” Cochart said.
To get quotes on prices or call in an order, call Rio Creek Feed Mill at (920) 837-2226, Luxemburg Milling at (920) 845-2386 or Frank’s Feed Mill at (920) 837-7442.
Good habitat key
Wildlife experts say feeding deer and other wildlife — even backyard birds — is mostly a feel-good thing that benefits people as much as the animals that take advantage of the handouts.
Long-term, it’s far better for private landowners to manage their properties for year-round wildlife feeding.
Up north, especially, deer can’t be stockpiled in numbers larger than the habitat can support, and tens of thousands can die in a severe winter. Supplemental feeding there can also turn into a “deer bait pile” for wolves and other predators.
Here in Kewaunee County, coyotes are the top deer predator, mainly killing fawns in spring. Our ag-heavy lands can support much higher numbers of whitetails, but not without cost to farmers losing crops or landowners trying to grow trees.
Many property owners select species not preferred by deer or encase young tree species that deer love in tubes or fencing to protect them.
Landowners who can afford to often plant fruit- and nut-bearing trees that benefit multiple species, and seek professional advice from a forester to make decisions on cutting and planting to benefit wildlife.
Whitetails Unlimited offers several educational brochures to help landowners increase the wildlife value of their land. They can be ordered in print from www.whitetailsunlimited.com or downloaded for free. Click on “Resources,” then “Educational Booklets.”
Direct links to two favorites are http://www.whitetailsunlimited.com/i/p/bk_forest.pdf and http://www.whitetailsunlimited.com/i/p/bk_enhancement.pdf.
• The Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association has been educating, informing and engaging state woodland owners since 1979. To learn more about the benefits of membership, visit http://www.wisconsinwoodlands.org.
• Ever since the discovery of chronic wasting disease in southern Wisconsin, there is a long list of requirements to legally feed wildlife. For a summary, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/files/pdf/pubs/wm/wm0456.pdf.
— Kevin Naze is a freelance outdoor writer. Call him at (920) 883-9792 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org