Tim Neuman is the wildlife biologist for Ani-Logics Outdoors. He grew up hunting and fishing in Minnesota, but has hunted all across the United States. He is a veteran, a father, and a die-hard white-tailed deer geek. He has a master’s degree in Wildlife Science from Auburn University and has published peer-reviewed scientific articles on mate selection for white-tailed deer. He has a serious fascination with deer antlers and even has a dog named “Cabela” trained to find sheds. If there has ever been a paper written about the science of antlers, Tim has read it and knows the scientists that wrote it. Now he splits his time between Ani-Logics Outdoors product development, land management, writing articles/blogs, customer support, and trade shows, all while trying to kill mature bucks with stick and string.
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) are the two biggest diseases that can impact your deer herd, but more specifically, your mature bucks.
If you have never heard of either one, let me give you a quick summary.
EHD | The Specifics
EHD is in the same group of viruses as Bluetongue (BT) Virus and because clinical symptoms are similar between the two, they are generally clumped together and called Hemorrhagic Disease.
These types of viruses are transmitted by a biting midge, usually in late Summer or early Fall but can also occur in the Springtime.
Clinical symptoms are highly variable. Initial symptoms include a feverish state where some animals can lose their fear of humans. There was a video of a buck that went viral because it stumbled through a burning campfire on its way to drowning itself in a river, all while people stood around wondering what the heck was going on.
Deer with EHD may die within 1-3 days after getting bitten if they have no immunity to the strain of virus that has infected them.
As deer attempt to relieve their fever, they often become dehydrated and will be found near water.
Once a hard frost hits the landscape, the threat of further EHD outbreaks is complete for that growing season, but as soon as midges come back in the spring there is a chance for further outbreaks.
CWD | The Specifics
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), on the other hand, is caused by a protein that changes its shape to a non-functional version. This prion protein normally resides all over the body, but is concentrated in the lymphatic system, brain and spinal tissues.
Infected deer show no clinical symptoms for up to 18 months but are capable of spreading prions even before they show any outward sign of illness.
In the later stages of the disease, animals lose coordination and become lame. They also lose their appetite and fear of humans. They are typically found with dropping ears and head in a lower position.
CWD has gotten a lot of press lately because of the concern to potentially impact humans, whereas EHD poses no direct threat to humans.
Notice how I said ‘potentially’ impact? That’s because there’s currently no evidence that it will impact humans, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way.
CWD is in a group of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies and in that same group of diseases is one that infects humans, called Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD).
A variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD) can be acquired by eating meat from cattle infected with a similar disease called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease.
The fear is that one day humans will someday be susceptible to CWD, even though that day has yet to come. That’s because all animals carry some type of prion protein, but a major difference is that the human prion protein has slightly different amino acid structure than deer.
There has also been recent concern that CWD can be transmitted to macaque monkeys, which are genetically much more similar to humans, but that information has yet to be published in scientific literature.
What causes the normal prion protein to change into the mis-shaped disease state remains uncertain, although there are many theories about how this could happen.
EHD Compared to CWD
The take home point is that both EHD and CWD can impact deer, but EHD is less of a long-term concern with your deer herd, because the more a deer herd is exposed, the more immunity it can build up.
CWD, on the other hand, progressively gets worse until mature bucks are almost impossible to grow on the landscape because they become infected and die before they can reach the older age classes.
This phenomenon is rare because CWD prevalence is low across most of the range of white-tailed deer, but can occur in certain areas where the prevalence is above 50%. That means the chance of a buck having CWD would be the same as flipping a coin to heads, and if you see a buck older than 3 years old in that area, they are more and more likely to contract it and die before reaching 6 years old.
This is because mature bucks move about the landscape more often than females, especially during the breeding season.
Bucks also mutually groom each other in bachelor groups during the summer months, so they have more opportunity to spread the disease than female groups, which tend to keep a more consistent home range throughout their lifetime.
Here is a table to explain the differences between EHD and CWD:
Mis-shaped prion protein
Mortality when contracted:
Duration of clinical illness:
24 hrs to several weeks
18-24 months, followed by death
Long-term herd effect:
Build up Immunity, herd rebounds
Unknown, but might lower herd productivity if prevalence gets too high. Mature males harder to grow.
If you have a pond edge, plant vegetation that can withstand moist soil right up the edge of the water.
Spread quick growing seeds like rye grain on areas of a creek bottom that have been exposed to flooding and try to reduce the amount of mud exposed.
Fogging for insects around ponds on a still morning may also reduce adult populations thus limiting the spread of disease.
You can also keep your herd healthy by supplemental feeding and using minerals. Ani-Logics Outdoors has produced a health additive for their feed and minerals that can increase immune system function. When the immune system is firing on all cylinders, the deer that gets bitten by an infected midge has an increased chance of survival. Those that are in poor bodily condition when bitten by the midge have a much higher chance of dying.
How To Limit CWD
As for CWD, the best thing you can do to prevent the spread is not to move the carcass of deer harvested in a CWD area. Also, dispose of the remains in a state approved landfill or incinerator.
If you harvest a trophy buck in a CWD area, make sure the taxidermist you use is local, and make sure they properly dispose of the brain and spinal cord tissue without putting it back on the landscape.
If everyone hunting in a CWD area removed all the CWD positive carcasses off the landscape, prevalence would remain low enough that no population level concerns would ever occur. There would be no way to eliminate the amount of prion proteins already deposited on the landscape, but at least we wouldn’t be adding more fuel to the CWD fire by always putting more diseased prions in the woods.
If you hunt in an area that is not known to have CWD, you should still get your deer tested because deer have been known to make very long excursions outside of their normal range.
Here in Minnesota, the DNR recently tracked a collared deer that made a 75-mile one-way trek. Thankfully it was not CWD positive at the time, but if one deer did it, that means other can as well.
Best of luck in having a healthy deer herd!
*deer skull article photo used by permission from Brad Alan
Before I start talking about food plots, I want everyone to understand that no food plot, no matter what the blend, can supply everything a deer needs in terms of their nutrition.
So, no matter what you are planning for a food plot, the first step in the Spring should be to create a mineral site and/or feeding station next to the planned food plot location.
Getting deer accustomed to using an area and giving their diet a boost is a great way to set your food plot up for success later in the year, even in places where feeding is not legal during the hunting season.
When I am in the planning stage for a couple new food plots, sometimes I get to the point where I am tired of planting food plots using the same old, run down equipment.
This article focuses on those of us that do not own enough land to justify buying a tractor. But, just because you don’t own equipment does not mean you need to skimp on your food plot prep.
How Much Tractor (and money) Do You Need For Your Food Plot?
First, if you own your own land, you can probably afford a tractor.
Tractors certainly come in all shapes and sizes. But, for the avid food plot planter, something in the 20-35 hp range should be plenty.
I have looked at a lot of different options on the market and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Regardless of the price a dealer tells you, a tractor is worth what someone will pay for it.
Tractorhouse.com is a great place to search for tractors for sale, but farm retirement auctions are also a great place to find a lot of good machinery at a reasonable price.
Getting to know the tractor market in your area is a valuable tool before you decide when/if you should buy one.
To buy or not to buy a tractor… that is the question
Around my hunting ground in SE Minnesota, most rental places have small walk behind tillers for garden work. If you have a small secluded area that you cannot get a tractor to, this might be your only option unless you want to wear your arms out using a rake, making what I refer to as a “poor man’s plot.”
Let’s calculate some numbers, which I think you can appreciate if you are wanting to know rental rates on smaller tractors and implements versus owning the equipment.
For ¼ to 1-acre sized food plots it is very economical to rent a riding tractor, but most rental outfits only have landscaping tools available such as skid steers and back-hoes. My local rental shop actually had a 25 hp riding Kubota with a 36” garden tiller attachment for $200 per day.
There was no trailer included in this price, but you could rent their trailer for $50/day. Luckily, I have an uncle with a car trailer I could borrow. Basically, I could spend 2 days tilling food plots all day and be out $400. The problem is that with only a 36” tiller it would take me all day to do what I want done.
Just for fun, I priced out what that same tractor would cost if I were to buy it new with a 48” tiller, and the amount was $27,400. My monthly payment would have been over $400 (60-month financing), so paying $400 for 2 long days of tough tractor labor doesn’t sound so bad.
If I only needed 2 long days of food plot tilling each year, it would take me 47 years to justify buying a new tractor versus renting (assuming I use 4-wheeler for spraying plots).
I would certainly use a tractor for other things such as gardening and snow removal, but I’m focusing on food plot tillage for this article. Granted, the rental rate will increase over time. But, the value will also decrease on a tractor over time. so, both would be a wash in terms of value lost/gained.
I called around to a few different companies and food plot installation ranged from $400/acre (uninsured Bubba with a tractor) to $1,600/per acre (Professional install included soil testing, fertilizer amendments, and consulting/design on where food plot should be placed).
The professional also had access to a no till drill which is great for reducing soil erosion as well as conserving soil moisture.
Some charged by the hour and charged mileage for getting equipment to where the work needed to be done. Others charged for time and materials, meaning you pay for the labor around $75/hr and pay for the seed, fertilizer, or whatever materials are needed to have a successful food plot.
Some would even travel to my location and use local rented equipment to do the job, and charge $100/hr labor, plus a consulting fee ($500).
So, Can I Borrow Your Tractor?
Another option is to find someone that trusts you with their equipment. Why rent a tractor 50 miles away from your property when the neighbor is willing to let you use their tractor?
Even massive commercial farmers sometimes have a small “yard tractor” they use for grading their driveway, or for snow removal.
You could also talk to some of the local farmers and see if they are willing to do the tillage work and pay them for their service.
I define tillage as any sort of equipment that makes the field look like dirt. So, I’m lumping all tillers, discs, harrows, and chisel plow type machinery into the word “tillage.”
One of my plots is adjacent to a farmer’s field, and if I need tillage work, I pay him $50 just to make a few passes with his massive machinery. Basically, I’m just paying him for the inconvenience of having to make a couple extra turns. This will not work in the smaller kill plots located inside of the timber though.
Just like with anything in life, you get what you pay for, and doing it yourself is always cheaper. It is also the only way to be certain the food plot is done to your standards.
I’ll save the fine details of hunting food plots for another article. Feel free to share your food plotting and habitat management equipment in the coments below or on Ani-Logics Outdoors social media pages.
Just like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two food plots are the same and you should use your own judgement as to what equipment works best for you.