Low-Tech Grazing Gauge Measures True Crop Growth

By Jon Cooner

“Why isn’t my food plot growing?”

Thankfully, this question is one Whitetail Institute consultants are rarely asked. Even so, most of us have occasionally experienced a plot that seems to grow too slowly.
It might surprise you, but in many cases, the forage is actually growing well, and the problem is simply grazing pressure. There’s only one way to know for sure: Put a grazing gauge in the plot. When a food plot doesn’t seem to be growing as well as it should, diagnose the situation step-by-step. The most common reasons are low soil pH, heavy grazing pressure, or that you cut corners during seedbed preparation and planting instructions. The first factor to eliminate in the diagnosis is grazing pressure; make sure what you’re seeing isn’t the result of deer heavily grazing the plot. The only practical way to do that is to install a grazing gauge in the plot so you can comparatively measure how much of the forage is being eaten.

What is a grazing gauge?

A grazing gauge is a small cage you can put over a small section of the plot to prevent deer from eating the forage inside. That lets you compare the height of the forage inside the cage to the unprotected forage outside. Over time, the difference in height will reveal if the plot is being subjected to heavy deer usage or eliminate that as a potential factor, allowing you to investigate further.

Grazing Gauge Tips.

Building a grazing cage is simple. It only has to protect a small part of the forage stand from grazing. Even so, these tips can help you get the most out of it. Although there’s no preferred shape for a grazing gauge, making a simple cylinder and cap out of hog-wire fence is easy and effective. Make the gauge tall enough to allow the forages inside to grow as quickly and fully as possible. Also, it should be wide enough so representative samples of all forage components are protected. For most forages, a cylindrical gauge at least two feet tall and about two feet in diameter suffices. Finally, the gauge and how it’s installed in the plot should be strong enough to withstand deer pushing on it. When it comes to building an effective grazing gauge, the old saying, “It ain’t rocket science” fits. You can easily figure out how to do it without instructions. Even so, we’ve picked up a few ideas along the way that will help you build a gauge that will be sturdy and last as long as possible, allowing you to use it for years. You’ll find a materials list and instructions following this article.