Bucks & Beans
Cleverly hidden in the most convincing camouflage, hunters have one main goal during deer season - bagging the biggest buck. What many fail to realize, however, is the impact soybeans may have on their antlered trophies.
|Pam and Trey Montgomery own Leavellwood, a hunting and fishing preserve in Greene County. They provide nutritional supplements made from soybeans to their white-tailed deer for maximum antler growth.|
"Of the soybeans produced in the United States, nearly 98 percent are used in animal feed. Animal agriculture is essentially the No. 1 customer of soybeans, and it really shows in their overall health," said Steve Guy, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Forestry, Soybean, and Wildlife Resources Divisions. "Animals that eat soybeans are larger, healthier, better able to ward off diseases and more successful at handling stress from the heat and humidity in the South."
One animal that's seen significant growth and health benefits from soybeans can be found in Alabama's Black Belt, just 45 miles southwest of Tuscaloosa in Greene County.
White-tailed deer roam 1,000 well-wooded acres inside a high fenced enclosure at Leavellwood, a hunting and fishing preserve owned by Pam and Trey Montgomery. To ensure they remain as healthy as possible and are prime breeding material, the Montgomerys closely monitor every buck and doe at Leavellwood.
"While genetics play a role in their overall well-being," said Trey, "nutritional supplements provided on a consistent basis are critical in determining each deer's growth potential, spread size and success rate capabilities of producing quality fawns."
Deer with up to 16 points and a 21-inch spread have been taken from the family property.
To raise the healthiest, largest deer, good nutrition may seem obvious. However, people who are inexperienced with hunting or animal welfare don't often realize how beneficial proper amounts of protein and fat are or how less-than-adequate nutrition can critically impact the size of the herd, said Guy. Unfortunately, the Montgomerys experienced that impact first-hand.
"We had a very serious situation happen when we weren't monitoring what our deer were eating," recalled Pam. "It was a very hard lesson to learn, but out of it, I spent seven months learning about deer nutrition - what they needed, what they didn't."
It was from this research and extensive work with nutritionists and deer scientists that the Montgomerys developed a successful soybean-based feed recipe.
"You really have to develop a complete nutrition for the deer in a supplemental form," explained Trey. "Some people feed deer textured feed, which the deer like. But what happens then is the deer, like humans, pick through what they want and don't eat the other stuff - which is generally the healthiest ingredients for them."
To combat that tendency, the Montgomerys developed a complete pelleted feed. Now, when the deer walk up to a supplemental feeding station on Leavellwood's property, every bite taken is fully nutritious.
"It provides our deer with more than adequate protein, fat . . . [and] the best nutrition they can possibly get in a short amount of time, which allows them to still be healthy when they're not actively pursuing a food source," said Pam. "If it's too hot, like it is now, they'll get up and get water but have little appetite. This solves that problem."
Folks often question why they Montgomerys don't just throw out corn or other types of feed for the deer rather than going through so much trouble to develop a special feed and monitor their herd. Trey and Pam are quick to point out that it's not that simple.
"A lot of people think deer would be fine by just eating corn, but it's like ice cream - it works as an energy source, but it doesn't really provide a whole lot of nutritional value," said Pam. "They need a complete diet, and they need more than one item, just like people do."
In addition to their hunting service, the Montgomerys also maintain 100 acres of lakes stocked with large-mouth bass and bream. As with the deer, Pam and Trey provide the fish with a supplemental food source made from soybeans. Feeders are staged throughout the lake and periodically disperse a high protein food source, providing optimum growth potential for the fish.
"It's not a cheap business to be in. If you do it, you want to do it right, and the Montgomerys are doing just that," said Guy. "They want everyone to come visit, have a good time and a good experience, but they also want to produce the best possible deer, bass and other fish they can. It really makes all the difference."
Operating Leavellwood is a lot of hard work for the Montgomerys, but according to Pam, producing the largest, healthiest animals possible, either finned and four-legged, makes the stress of constantly monitoring, budgeting and improving their operation worthwhile.
"We have found a way to take care of the land and let the land take care of us," Pam said. "Our whole goal is to be good stewards over what we have so we can return it better than it was originally to the next generation."