Supplemental Deer Feed & Nutritional Guide
Many landowners and hunters consider supplemental feeding an important factor in deer management and a source of nutrition when native forage is inadequate either in quantity or quality. Under certain conditions a supplemental feeding program can help; however, most deer feeding programs which provide sufficient additional nutrients to be of value, are expensive.
There is a distinct difference between feeding and baiting deer. Maintaining deer feeders from October through December is a common practice on many ranches to attract deer to hunting blinds during the hunting season. Unfortunately, most of these baiting efforts cease just before additional feed is really needed by the deer. Supplemental feeding should be done during stress periods and then only under specific conditions. Stress periods for deer are usually encountered when the protein content of the forage is at a low level during severe winters, dry springs, and dry summers.
Supplemental feeding of deer is expensive, and unless properly done, it is of little or no benefit to the deer. The most efficient means of ensuring adequate nutrition is through a good range management program that provides sufficient cover and a variety of plants as well as forbs. This is done by reducing deer numbers and domestic livestock numbers to levels that allow the range to recover and remain in good condition. A common mistake made by many landowners attempting to develop a range management plan is to disregard the number of animal units of deer present when calculating the use of the range. If deer are present, they are utilizing available forage and must be considered as part of the stocking rate. If large numbers of deer are desired, domestic livestock must be reduced to prevent damage to the range. Under good range conditions, deer and cattle do not compete for food; however, deer, sheep and goats are in direct competition for the available food supply. When a range is in poor condition deer and cattle will compete for forb and browse plants.
Supplemental feeding of deer may be beneficial if the herd is harvested adequately each year and the range is in good condition. Only under closely controlled conditions will supplemental feeding benefit growth rate of body and antlers. The benefits of a supplemental feeding program may be more quickly realized when feeding is done within deer-proof fenced areas that permit the landowner to closely control deer numbers.
Most supplemental feeding programs have advantages as well as disadvantages. Consider these points when planning a supplemental program for wild deer.
Long term commitment
- Learned behavior
- Three (3) year response time
More intensive management required
- Harvest management
- Feeding program management
- Feed and equipment
- Feeding non-target animals
- Trophy class animals at an earlier age.
- Lower post rut mortality in bucks.
- Allow genetically superior animals to reach their potential.
- Carry more quality animals in a given area.
- Smooth out ‘boom or bust' population cycles.
- Expand range or hold animals in an area if other factors are not limiting.
An important consideration in any feeding program is the type of feed to be used. Feed types vary from fertilized food plots to commercial cubes, pellets and blocks. Deer eat most agricultural crops but prefer those which are fertilized. Fertilization of native plant species will also increase usage of these plants by deer.
The age of the deer as well as the season of the year affect the amounts of food taken by the animals. Bucks will increase food consumption during antler development and does will consume more feed during lactation. During the fall and winter seasons, following weaning, fawns will increase the food consumption. Doe deer also require nutrition during the fall and winter months for good reproductive success.
Corn is low in protein (approximately 7% to 10%) and high in carbohydrates.
Corn does not provide adequate protein levels needed for development of bone and muscle; however, corn may be used as an energy supplement during very cold period of the winter.
A deer must obtain at least 6% to 7% crude protein diet just to maintain rumen function. A diet of less that 10% protein will result in inferior animals and poor antler development. Deer need a daily diet of 12% to 16% protein for optimum development of bone and muscle.
Protein content in supplemental feeds fed during antler growth and lactation should be 20%.
Total protein level in the diet does not need to be over 16% but during times of nutritional stress such as antler development or late stages of gestation and lactation a higher protein content feed of 20% is optimal.
During certain times of the year or during drought, the forage that deer are consuming may be as low as 6% to 7% digestible protein. Unfortunately, many times there are periods when bucks are growing antlers and does are lactating. During this time a 20% protein supplement can be used effectively to raise the protein in the total diet to an acceptable level.
Minerals most important to a deer's body and antler growth are calcium and phosphorus.
If supplemental feed is made available to white-tailed deer it should have an adequate supply of calcium and particularly phosphorus.
Many trace mineral are important to deer but natural forage usually contains sufficient amounts for body and antler growth.
In past studies, optimum antler and body growth were obtained when deer were fed a diet containing 0.64% calcium and 0.56% phosphorus.
Calcium-phosphorus ratios ranging from one to one or two to one are sufficient. Greater amounts of one of these minerals may be detrimental even though the supply of the other is adequate.
Recommended Nutrient Levels in Deer
Content in Grains
Crude Protein, %
Vitamin A, 1U/1b
Vitamin D, 1U/1b
Vitamin E, 1U/1b