What is Deer Browse?
Deer browse is defined as the leaves, twigs, and buds of woody plants. Whitetail deer are primarily browsers. Eating browse is an important part of what deer eat especially during the winter months when food is hard to come by. In fact, browse may be the only food source available during much of the winter.
Preferred Deer Browse
- White Cedar (Arbor Vitae) - Evergreen with flat scalelike "leaves." Some varieties used for ornamental shrubbery. A swamp tree but it can grow on moist upland. In many areas browsing deer have eaten practically all cedar within reach.
- White Pine - The only Michigan pine with five needles in a cluster. Young trees have smooth dark green bark. Deer will eat white pine before they take other pines.
- Maples - Trees with buds opposite each other Sugar maple has brownish or gray twigs with brown pointed buds. Red maple has red twigs and reddish rounded buds and is better deer food.
- Yellow Birch - The bark of young tree , and twigs is brownish turning yellowish-gray and curling up when older. Pointed buds. Twigs taste like wintergreen. Young yellow birch looks like ironwood (a poor deer food), but ironwood has no wintergreen taste.
- Dogwoods and Viburnums - Shrubs that generally have opposite buds like maples. Red dogwood has bright red twigs. Other species have reddish green, brown, or gray twigs. Viburnum buds are many different shapes.
- Sumac - Shrub commonly found in old fields and forest openings. Heavy, stiff, brown twigs and branches. One kind is fuzzy and resembles antlers in velvet. Another kind is smooth. Bunches of fuzzy red fruit at the top of all sumac plants.
Plants that are highly preferred by deer will always show signs of browsing. Plants that deer really do not like will almost always show signs of no browsing.
Cutting Browse For Feeding Deer
During the winter period, deer digestive systems are normally set up to digest their regular diet of woody browse, twig tips and buds. It can take up to several weeks for the culture of the micro-organisms to adjust to changes in a deer's normal browse diet in the winter. What might work well to digest woody browse will not digest supplemental foods such as corn or other grains.
Cutting deer browse instead of planting supplemental winter foods provides energy immediately. Even though deer will readily eat the supplemental food, their system is not set up during this time to digest the food properly and they will receive little nutrition from it until there system has time to adapt. Creating a situation where they are actually starving with a full stomach.
Tips For Cutting Deer Browse
- Firewood Cutting can provide needed browse as the tops and upper braches have higher nutritional value than lower branches.
- Non-firewood cuttings should be limited to trees and shrubs 1 to 3 inches in diameter. Hinge the stem by cutting only 2/3 of the way through and bending the stem over. This allows the plant to continue feeding the bent over portion to produce sprout growth.
- With concerns about CWD, cuttings should be done over a wide area to eliminate heavy feeding concentration in small areas.
- Cutting browse is most beneficial when it is hardest for deer to get around. Deer tracks will tend to be less spread out and more concentrated at this time making it easier to determine when is a good time to cut browse. any feeding which result in deer being confined to one localized area increases the likelihood of the transfer of CWD from muzzle to muzzle contact.
Browse is an important food source for whitetails, especially during the high stress winter months. These tips are just some of the ways to increase native browse on your property. Browse management is an important part of any deer management program because browse plants are produced year after year when deer need them most.
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