Nutritional habitat quality in unmanaged southeastern forests often is limited because a dense midstory and litter layer impede growth of high-quality, shade-intolerant forage species. Management actions often are designed to improve the quantity of natural forages and to supplement natural forages with agronomic plantings. We evaluated the use of a selective herbicide, prescribed fire, and fertilizer to improve forage production for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in naturally regenerated, mature loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) stands in north-central Mississippi, treated during 1998–1999. We compared nutritional quality and production of selected forages in treated plots (n = 4) and untreated plots (n = 4) during years 2 and 3 post-treatment. We also measured quality and production of cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) produced in food plots (n = 4). Treatment plots produced an average of 435 kg/ha of leaf biomass and 34 kg/ha of digestible protein; untreated plots averaged 119 ka/ha of leaf biomass and 7 kg/ha of digestible protein. Cowpea food plots produced 545 kg/ha of leaf biomass and 110 kg/ha of digestible protein. Carrying-capacity estimates (deer-days/ha) increased from 7 in untreated plots to 268 in treated plots. Extrapolated over a 10-year economic planning horizon, the cost of producing digestible protein was $8/kg for treated plots and $15/kg for cowpea food plots. Vegetation treatments as described can cost-effectively produce high-quality, natural deer forages.
in vitro digestibility
quality vegetation management