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Food Plot/Habitat Tip
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Steve Trupe – Trupe’s Wildlife Management

About 10 years ago a “new” group of plants called Brassicas hit the Wildlife Management and Food Plot Planting Scene and became the “hands down” most popular annual planting for Fall Attraction and Winter Feed for Deer, especially in the snowy North Country. Brassica is not a plant, but an entire family of plants that includes Cabbage, Broccoli, Kale, Canola, Radishes, Turnips and Rape. These plants can be planted in late Summer and will grow and mature in late Fall. They withstand extreme cold and remain upright in deep snow to provide a high protein and high carbohydrate forage well into the Winter. The large leaves are usually consumed first, and then the roots of Turnip and Swede are often eaten into the Spring. Nearly every Food Plot Seed producer markets a Brassica Mix. Northern hunters are sold on Brassica Food Plots.

In the past few months an ad by a well known food plot seed producer that does NOT market Brassicas has been appearing in outdoor publications suggesting that Brassicas are toxic to Deer. They are using results from 30 to 40 year old research on CATTLE.

The research was conducted in a fenced pasture where the cattle could only consume the brassicas that were grown there. By publishing this data they are suggesting that we might be poisoning our deer with Brassicas.

The scare tactics are to get us to quit using Brassicas and instead use their cereal grain product.

It is true that Brassicas CAN contain large amounts of toxic alkaloids, glucosinolates, thioglucides and SMCO that are linked to several unhealthy conditions such as: anemia, goiter, nitrate poisoning, rumen stasis, bloat, diarrhea, respiratory disease and others.

Again, these conditions can also be associated with many other improperly used types of forages.

In spite of these potential problems, Brassicas have been used as livestock forage in this country for decades and in Europe and Asia for centuries. A bit of knowledge and common sense can minimize or even eliminate any threat of Brassica Toxicity in wild or domestic Cervids.

In a recent phone conversation, I asked Ed Spinnozola, well known to QDMA members as “Mr. Brassica”, about Brassica Toxicity. His response was that it is a concern BUT a deer would have to consume over 75% of its food intake in Rape or Turnips to even begin to have an adverse effect. He stated “If Brassica toxicity were such a serious problem Southern folks would have to stop eating turnip and collard greens and cole slaw; Indians would have to stop grazing their sacred cattle in forage rape fields (which they have been doing for 3000 years) and New Zealand, the world leader in Red Deer meat and antler velvet production, Sheep production AND forage products would have to stop feeding and developing Brassicas. Alfalfa, Clover and Corn can also be toxic to deer if fed exclusively or they are not introduced to it gradually”.

The important points to remember to greatly reduce or eliminate any threat of Brassica Toxicity are:

Deer have a much smaller Rumen than cattle and must forage selectively on high quality foods, rather than just stuff themselves with whatever is at their feet. They forage on the move and pick up a wide variety of foods in the process. They also have an uncanny ability to determine which foods are best for them at the time and which are not.

Plant a variety of different food plots and/or plant combinations. Plant high carbohydrate crops such as corn and cereal grains or have natural foods like browse, fruit or acorns in close proximity to your Brassicas.

Plant your Brassicas in mixes with other plants such as cereal grains (oats, wheat, rye, triticale), soybeans, Winter Peas and even corn. One of my favorite mixes is Wheat, Oats or Rye with a Brassica Mix and Austrian Winter Peas. Ed Spinozzola likes that mix and also likes a Brassica Mix with late planted Forage Soybeans.

Avoid planting Brassicas in high Sulphur soils and/or using high sulphur fertilizers. High amounts of Sulphur can compound the occurrence of SMCO and glucosinolates. High amounts of Selenium in the soil, other foods or dietary supplements can counter those effects.

Use more Canola or Improved Forage Rape and Turnip varieties in your Brassica Seed Mixes. Most seed mixes from reputable companies contain such varieties. Since the 1980’s forage producers have been developing Brassica forages with highly reduced amounts of glucosinolates and euric acid, the main culprits in Brassica Toxicity.

See the following report from the Canadian Government, dated 2008/09, I found on the internet by “Googleing” SMCO as instructed in the Brassica Toxicity AD. Note the dates of all the Brassica Toxicity research cited, it’s 21 to 50 years old!!

General poisoning notes: From Canadian Gov’t. Biodiversity Information Facility Brassica oleracea includes common cultivated crops such as kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. All these vegetables are capable of forming toxic quantities of SMCO, a chemical that can cause hemolytic anemia in livestock. These plants also contain glucosinolates, which can cause goiter. In general, these widely used vegetables are safe for human consumption. Cases of livestock poisoning occur when they are used almost exclusively as fodder for animals (Kingsbury 1964, Smith 1980, Cheeke and Schull 1985, Benevenga et al. 1989). Glucosinolates contained in kale, cabbage, and broccoli (Brassica oleracea) can cause goiter in humans. These plants cause goiter in less than 5% of cases in humans. The chemicals cause a reduction in performance of young livestock, especially swine and poultry (Fenwick et al. 1989).

It is important to note that the frequency of toxicity has dropped dramatically since a few decades ago. Researchers have changed the quantity of toxic compounds in the entire Brassica spp., creating new cultivars with lower quantities of these chemicals. The threat of poisoning from some of the plants has diminished or virtually disappeared in some cultivars. For example, the Canadian development of rapeseed into the so-called "double-zero" cultivars (low in glucosinolates and in erucic acid) has allowed rapeseed meal to be used for livestock at much higher levels without reducing performance (Cheeke and Schull 1985).

In my opinion, this “Brassica Toxicity Scare”, is just that. A marketing ploy used by one company, twisting the facts from decades old research, to scare the food plot planting public into avoiding the “competition” and planting only their products. If you follow the recommendations in this article Brassica Toxicity should NOT be a problem for you deer herd.

Any comments or Questions Please Contact Steve Trupe @ [email protected]
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