Have you ever wondered how much forage your food plot is
producing or to what extent wildlife utilize your plot? There is a
simple and inexpensive way to get good answers to these questions.
Placing at least one exclosure cage in each of your food plots will
demonstrate forage rate of growth and the amount of wildlife usage.
An exclosure restricts wildlife access from a small area within the
plot, allowing plants to demonstrate how well they grow on each
site without the impact of wildlife.
Placement: Constructing an exclosure is simple. Cut a
piece of wire mesh small enough to prevent rabbits from entering
(e.g., 1" x 2") and form a circular or square area at least three
feet across and four feet tall. After the plot is planted, stand
the exclosure up and secure it with stakes on at least two sides so
that it cannot be pushed around by foraging animals, such as deer
or feral hogs.
The use of metal stakes such as concrete reinforcement rods
(re-bar) is suggested. The exclosure should be placed in a
representative area of the plot avoiding the highest or lowest
points, wettest or driest points, or the most or least fertile
areas. Placing the exclosure towards the middle of the plot will
eliminate competition effects from native vegetation around plot
edges, especially trees. Be careful to not place cages where
excessive seed or fertilizer was spread or spilled. If you wait
until the seed has sprouted and emerged, pick an area
representative of the food plot to place the exclosure. Make sure
the exclosure is in place as soon as possible after planting to
eliminate bias from early use by wildlife.
Records should be kept for future reference as to the growth rate
and utilization in plots with exclosures. For each plot, the most
basic records of liming, fertilization, soil preparation method,
seed rate, and plant species (including variety) should be
documented initially. The exact planting date should be recorded
along with any pertinent information about soil or weather
Each plot with an exclosure should be observed periodically, at
least once every 2 - 3 weeks, and notes taken at time of
observation. These notes should address weather conditions since
the last observation documenting amount of rainfall, temperature
extremes, and other weather phenomena. Notes should also be
made on food plot use by different wildlife species such as rabbit,
turkey, deer, and hogs by track observation, sightings, or fecal
At each observation period, the height of the planted species
inside and outside the exclosure should be measured. For the height
outside the exclosure, take several measurements throughout the
plot and use the average. Documentary photographs can also be
taken. Take at least one photo of the exclosure with a yard stick
or measuring tape placed firmly on the ground and extending upward
along the outside of the exclosure. Be sure to include some of the
area outside the exclosure and focus the camera so that measurement
increments (inches) can be seen on the photo. Take another
photo of the entire plot with the exclosure in view. Make
sure that both photos are dated and taken from the same location
Summary: Evaluating food plot growth and
utilization can save time and money and provide more supplemental
food for wildlife.
After reviewing the data collected in plots with exclosure
cages, you should be able to determine:
- Which plant species performs best on specific sites?
- What time of year each forage species is available?
- Impact of weather extremes on plant growth.
- Which plant species are utilized the most by wildlife?
With this information, managers can make more informed decisions
about food plot management.