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Feedstuffs for wild deer

By Todd Steen, TFC Nutritionist 10/1/2018


Todd Steen, TFC Nutritionist
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For the most part, specific nutritional requirements of deer (cervids) are not well defined. It is known, however, that benefit is seen by increasing wild deer nutrition, particularly after the first frost for improvement of body stores for winter and increased survival. (Note that attempting to maintain body condition will take precedent over antler growth during energy partitioning.)

Deer are efficient in adapting to survival with dwindling availability of feedstuffs. When supplementing wild deer rations, always remember the first step is to check the law for authorized time span to feed wildlife. 

Animal consumption should include basic nutrients such as protein, energy (carbohydrate & fat), vitamin, mineral, and, of utmost importance, water. Although deer are ruminant animals just like cows, their rumen will only hold about 4 percent of a cow’s rumen. Thus, deer must replenish approximately every 3 to 4 hours.

The main source of nutrition for deer comes in the form of browse including woody-type plants, stems, shrubs, and leaves. More concentrated sources of energy for deer include nuts and fruits. Many times, forages and browse become less available and are of questionable quality. It is not uncommon for bucks to lose as much as 30 percent of their body weight due to the stress of the rut. Offering supplemental feed won’t completely eliminate body weight loss, but deer will still utilize the supplement as a portion of their diet even if total daily intake has fallen off.

When supplementing rations, it is typical to use ingredients with higher energy concentrations. It is common to supplement with corn due to its starch and fat content. But corn will only yield approximately 8-9 percent crude protein (CP) on a dry matter basis, which falls well short of desired CP needs. Adding whole, roasted soybeans to corn significantly increases CP and CP quality while supplying necessary fats.

Additionally, supplying calcium (Ca) and phosphorous (P) along with magnesium (Mg) and other trace minerals greatly supports the animal’s ability to maintain muscle function, bone maintenance, and antler development. Since deer typically utilize browse as basal ration, supplemental vitamins including vitamins A, D, E, and B-complex aid the animal in maintaining metabolic bodily function.

In properly providing wildlife the most optimal nutrition, remember that season and life-cycle stage play a part in requirements. Consider the following in deciding if feeding deer is advantageous:

• Make sure to check legal availability to supplement wildlife.

• Spring and summer play important roles in deer growth since deer have lower requirements in winter.

• Remember that deer are ruminant animals. It is best to make diet changes slowly and gradually instead of rapidly.

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