Help Your Deer Pay Their Nutritional “Bills”

Apr 11, 2022

Upon examination of the interaction of humans and animals across the ages, mankind often benefits from or takes enjoyment from animals behaving in a specific way or doing certain things. Many times, man’s priority may not be quite so high on the animal’s list of priorities. Some examples that come to mind are the horse that jumped from a high diving platform and hunting dogs that have been bred and selected to bark while trailing their quarry. While the human performer was focused on thrilling crowds with the “diving horse”, the horse could have lived a long and full life without jumping from any elevated platforms. Likewise, a dog intent on catching dinner would likely not alert its prey, yet a houndsman uses his dog’s vocalizations to help follow the location of the chase.   
In the world of deer hunting, we want to have an abundant, healthy population of deer with lots of trophy bucks with heavy bodies and giant antlers. However, often, the nutritional resources simply aren’t available for an abundance of huge deer. As a matter of fact, mammals have a natural priority list of how they will use nutrients. Again, we will find that deer place a relatively low priority on producing large body sizes and growing huge antlers. 
As a general rule, mammals use nutrients in the following order of priority:
  1. Basal metabolism-nutrients will first be used for basic body functions such as those associated with breathing and continuance of heart beat and blood circulation
  2. Movement/locomotion-nutrients will next be used to move around to find food and water to help sustain life
  3. Growth-animals that aren’t yet mature will use nutrients to grow and reach maturity
  4. Maintaining body weight and condition — if sufficient nutrients are available, animals will not continue to use body reserves as energy and will maintain their weight and condition
  5. Maintenance of pregnancy — if a female is pregnant, she will use nutrients to continue her pregnancy and not abort due to lack of nutrients (starvation)
  6. Milk production — if a female has live, unweaned offspring she will use nutrients to produce milk
  7. Adding to energy reserves/weight gain — animals will store fat for energy reserves and may store excess minerals in bone and/or organs
  8. Reproduction — if nutritional resources are sufficient enough for the all the above priorities to be met, cycling, courting, breeding, and the initiation of pregnancy will occur. Increasing the population in a time or area of limited nutritional resources is not likely to occur. 
  9. Expression of secondary sex characteristics —  bright, shiny hair coats, long colorful feathers in birds, and big, heavy antlers are possible only when all the above nutritional bills are paid
Now we know that large populations, heavy body weights, and massive antlers are not a deer’s highest priority especially when nutrients are lacking. So, what can we as hunters and wildlife enthusiasts do to help assure that we have more deer, bigger deer, and the chance to harvest trophy bucks?
We can use nutritional supplements such as attractants, feeds and minerals strategically to help assure that our deer do not suffer from any deficiencies.  Better yet, we can use supplements to help provide nutritional abundance so that deer will grow, reproduce, and produce antlers that meet our goals and expectations. 
Energy (calories) are involved in all the functions listed above and animal populations just don’t thrive with limited calories. Providing supplements that are high in energy will help assure that calories are not the limiting factor in your deer herd’s size and overall health. Protein is often associated with reproduction, immunity, and muscle mass.  So, when energy is sufficient but protein is lacking, deer health and body weight may suffer. Antler growth requires protein, energy, and abundant minerals. In the eastern U.S. soils are often deficient in certain minerals, thus our forages and animals can be mineral deficient, too. Supplementation with calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc will help assure bucks can produce antlers to their genetic potential. 
Choose and provide supplements that provide energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Look for balance and completeness of nutrients as well. Balance is important, too. Too much of one nutrient or the absence of any essential nutrient may not allow your deer to perform to your expectations.
Many of us use deer as a source of recreation and enjoyment. Nutritional supplementation now can go a long way in reducing disappointment this fall. Stop by your local Co-op to see their selection of wildlife products. Find the Co-op nearest you here.
For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.

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