Micro Manager: How to Make a Utilization Cage

A couple of readers commenting on my entry about my DIY dual-perimeter fence asked that I install a utilization cage to monitor both the effectiveness of the fence and the overall use of the soybeans by the local deer herd.

Being the ever-accommodating writer that I am, I offer up this video. If you've never installed a utilization cage in your food plots, you should seriously consider doing so.

There are a couple of benefits to the cage and those benefits are closely related, the most obvious being that you'll be able to determine, at a glance, whether deer are grazing on your crop.

But that's not the only benefit: You can also determine whether the crop is truly being grazed or if it's simply not growing. I'll explain.

A couple of seasons ago, I put in a small plot of oats. I'd read a lot of good things about them and if half of what I'd read was true, I figured I'd be standing over the carcass of a very large buck by sundown on the opening day of Michigan's bow season. The drawing power, according to the “Doctor” who was touting the brand, was that severe.

Well opening day came and went. And there was no trophy laid to rest. But the oats were barely tall enough to cover the tops of my shoes and I knew it was because the deer were browsing them heavily. The fact that I hadn't actually seen a deer take so much as a bite out of the plot didn't matter.

The following season, I was a bit behind schedule and didn't have the time to make a special trip to one of the larger hunting gear outlets. Thus I was unable to buy that special brand of oats. So I stopped by the local grain elevator on my way home from work and picked up a sack of generic northern-variety oats. I sowed the plot that same weekend. And this time I installed a utilization cage.

Turns out the deer weren't chowing down the plot. I knew this because the oats on the outside of the cage were exactly the same height as those on the inside. Which taught me a pretty valuable lesson: If the dirt isn't right, the crop won't be either.

Last fall, I again planted oats. But this time I applied fertilizer. And the results were what I was hoping for three years prior. The oats on the inside of the cage were knee-high before heavy frost took them down. Those on the outside wouldn't cover my shoes. And it was because the deer were keeping them closely cropped to the ground. And, yes, I planted the cheap oats from the local elevator. So maybe there's a lesson there, too.

Watch the video and you'll see just how easy it is to build a utilization cage. You can use just about anything you want so long as it keeps the deer out and allows the sunlight in. I'm using three PVC stakes and some plastic mesh leftover from lining the perimeter or our garden. Wooden stakes, fence posts, chicken wire, snow fence—all will work. The total process should take you about 10 minutes.

The Tab

The goal of The Micro Manager is to see if we really can turn 17 acres of ho-hum ground into great deer hunting land. But we're also going to try and show that such things can be done on a tight budget. I’ve set a limit of $1,500 for this year's habitat work expenditures. Each week, we'll keep a running tally at the end of each entry. Here's the current tab thus far:

Chainsaw gas and oil: $21

ATV fuel: $12

Trees/shrubs: $312.50

Drain spade: $16

Screening Cover Seed: $110

Tree shelter materials: 120

Tractor gas: $35

Ag-type soybeans: $52.50

Tiller rental: $9o

Posts for fence: $44

Flagging tape for fence: $16

Utilization cage materials: $5

TOTAL: $836

BUDGET REMAINING: $664