As your summer food plot forages begin to grow, the amount of deer browse can be tough to interpret. In some cases a food plot seems to have failed, only reaching a few inches tall. There are many reasons food plots fail, but it isn’t always what it seems. Heavily browsed forages can appear to have been stunted or improperly planted. This is why it is important to erect an exclusion cage.
An exclusion cage is a device that is used to block any deer or other animal from browsing on the food plot forages. Their dimensions are usually only a few square feet, which acts as a control and shows what the crop or forage would have been like if there were no deer to browse on the plants. The plants outside of the cage will be browsed naturally.
While attending North Carolina State University I was a part of a yearlong internship that measured the effects whitetail deer have on soybeans. The internship included many other components but exclusion cages were a huge part of the study. Before the soybeans germinated we had to build an exclusion cage. Being a scientific study, we had certain parameters to follow. You on the other hand, do not. Any device that keeps deer out will be acceptable. As the soybeans matured, we noticed the soybeans in the exclusion cages were much taller than the rest of the field. This was expected and we saw a huge difference in bean pod production from the beans in the cages vs. the beans browsed naturally.
I established two cages per field and I recommend you to do the same, but at least attempt to create one. One was around the edge of the soybean field and then the other was roughly 50 yards out in the middle of the field. I oriented a trail camera near my cages to see how the deer felt about this odd new structure. They became used to it and it never bothered them from there on.
There are multiple, inexpensive ways to build an exclusion cage. Our study suggested using 2 x 2 strips of lumber and orange plastic netting. This worked great. You could also use chicken wire or any type of fencing that will withstand the elements. As you can see in the photos, the cages will catch a lot of wind and need to be corrected to function correctly during the course of your experiment.
This practice has recently become quite popular amongst land managers, and for good reason. They provide insight you cannot gather otherwise. It allows you to gauge the severity of the deer browse on your plots or crops so there’s no need to wonder just how much deer are using your plots or effecting the plot’s production. For just a few dollars you can build a few cages and see for yourself.