Surviving winter by eating cover crop

Upwards of 100 deer can be seen daily northeast of Hayden Prairie digging up the radishes.

Upwards of 100 deer can be seen daily northeast of Hayden Prairie digging up the radishes.

By Marcie Klomp

Large herds of deer can be seen around the county feeding out in the middle of snow-filled fields.

Some easy to spot areas include the 135-acre field just west of Mike Adams, or northeast of Hayden Prairie, and also 30 acres near the Jay Burns home. What the deer can see and we can’t is a crop of radishes. The fields, belonging to Dave and Ruthie Fritcher, were wet last spring, and the farmers planted a cover crop. The deer haven’t yet found the 160 acres south of Evelyn Truka.

Dave explained, “It was too late to plant corn. Toward the end of August we planted radishes.” Tillage radishes are big radishes. They help break up the compaction of the soil and help with water and air filtration. They can grow eight inches above the ground and three feet deep.

Some farmers tilled them up, but Fritchers left them over the winter. “Christmas, the deer started feeding. They’re there all the time. Well over 100 any given day.” Ross Ellingson of DNR said, “A lot of recreational land owners have food plots of tillage radishes and turnips.”

Of the deer, Ellingson added the snow depths are so deep, it’s hard for the deer to find food sources.

Jeff Korsmo of Howard County Conservation explained, “Everything is struggling this winter. At least the deer are able to paw through the snow. It’s fortunate we don’t have ice; on the other hand, we’ve had a lot of snow and wind.”

Although deer are many times loners, especially does, they “yard up,” band together for food and good heavy cover in the winter. That is why there are such huge herds when the snow flies.

Anyone who travels Highway 63 may argue, but the DNR expert admitted overall deer numbers are down statewide. He went on to say that since northeast and east central Iowa has had lots of snow, DNR is “hearing reports of dead deer. We also know they did starve.”

Neither Fritcher nor Ellingson is worried about the deer causing havoc with the crop this coming year. Ellingson said, “They probably traveled for miles [to find the radishes] and will go right back to their area when the weather clears up.”

Fritcher doesn’t fret over the deer. “They were here before us!”

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