Brassicas – Love Them or Hate Them? By Kevin Boyer

At Real World Wildlife Products, we have been testing different seed species and seed blends for decades. This testing is primarily done in side-by-side test plots where we allow the deer to show us which varieties of plants they prefer. When it comes to plants in the brassica family we have seen a wide variety of reactions from deer, in some cases deer love them and in others deer seem to hate them. From this testing I want to share some observations we have seen and documented and also discuss some ideas that get tossed around by deer hunters who have planted brassicas.

Here are some common ideas that I have heard from other deer hunters regarding brassicas and my response to them –

  1. Deer have to get use to brassicas like turnips before they will readily consume them? False
  2. Deer have to acquire a taste for certain plants in the brassica family? False
  3. Brassicas have to get a frost on them to turn them sweet tasting?  Sometimes – Some plants in the brassica family don’t need frost to become palatable to deer while others need more than just a “frost”, they need several days of temperatures below 32 Degrees
  4. You have to mow them off so that the deer can eat them? False


Deer are browser and as such they routinely eat the ends of branchs and twigs. They will even eat the branches off the end of multi floral rose bushes and blackberry briars. When the weather turns bad in winter and snow covers the ground and food sources are scarce, deer are looking for anything that DOESN’T TASTE BAD that they can find.

For those of you that have had bad luck with brassicas or are not for sure why your deer won’t eat them, I hope to shed some light on this matter. First let me explain what I am basing these thoughts on. Real World has tested every variety of brassica we could find over the past 20 years. Here are just a few  from a longlist of around 70 + of them; Turnips (several varieties), sugar beets, beets, radish (several varieties), kale, rape, carrots, collards and even one called Ethiopian cabbage and many more. So when these plants are planted side-by-side in a field near Real World soybeans or Real Worlds Clover & Chicory or other fall products, we look for specific plant species and varieties the deer prefer and which ones they won’t eat. We then take tissue samples from both the plants the deer prefer as well as the ones they don’t seem to eat at all. These tissue samples clearly reveal elevated nitrate levels in the plants the deer refuse to eat. When we see deer starting to eat the same plant later we pull another tissue sample and find the nitrate levels have dropped. There is a bit more to it however and this is what throws off some “experts”.

The timing of a particular plants maturity also plays a major role in how that plant reacts to the cold weather. Cold weather early or late in the fall can have very different effects on the palatability of the plant. Some plant species don’t need any cold weather to become palatable but instead just need to be at a certain stage of maturity to be palatable. Others need a frost and we have found that some plant species/varieties actually need 5-7 days of temperatures below 32 degrees before they become desirable based on the taste of the deer.

So after observing what plants deer eat and when they eat it, we have concluded that there are 4 things that effect brassica consumption by whitetails.

  1. What nutrients are in the soil (soil fertility)
  2. Maturity of the plants
  3. Specific varieties of the plants
  4. Cold temps changing nitrate levels in some plants

Side-by-side testing that give deer a choice of what they can consume is the only way to obtain meaningful results regarding which specific brassicas are a good fit in seed blends. When you plant Real Worlds “Plot Topper” or “Deadly Dozen” You will get a food plot that includes a variety of brassicas that will be attractive to deer over the entire hunting season. Some will be attractive right out of the gate in the early season while others will require some colder weather and still others won’t reach their peak attractiveness until winter weather sets in. Real World has spent years coming up with a solid blend of brassicas that work and are highly attractive to the deer based on the preference shown by deer in side-by-side trials.

Plot Topper can be planted in the same plot as our Forage Oats or over-seeded into other crops such as soybeans. The best time to do this is around September 1 here in central IL. I also over-seed Plot Topper in my standing corn crops near my tree stand sites. This will provide food in ag fields even after they have been harvested. This helps give me more food sources on my farm by what I call “double cropping” my food plots and my crop fields as well.

If you have tied brassicas in that past with poor results and have never tried Real Worlds “Plot Topper” or “Deadly Dozen” you may want to try one of these blends this year. It would be a great way to further diversify the food sources on your property and do so with specific plant varieties that have proven attractive to whitetails.

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