Deer Require Year-Round Nutrition Just Like Our Cattle

Mineral bag deer

By Brandi Salestrom

By Brandi Salestrom

Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or a hunter looking for a trophy buck, proper protein and mineral programs will give deer the opportunity to utilize their genetic potential. Deer herds should have proper management and nutrition year-round to ensure their future health. There are some great feed options out there to use as you plan for the coming year. These feeds will help maximize the potential for antlers, reproductive performance along with milk production to help support healthy, strong fawns. A doe plays an important role in the success of a deer herd and providing proper nutrition during stressful events and pregnancy will affect their offspring.

A deer’s habitat affects the amount of time they spend eating and moving. Stress from the weather, traffic, parasites, dogs or even improper feeders can negatively impact their feeding behavior. Water availability is something that is often overlooked among herds. If access to water is minimal, their feed intake will drop. Just like cattle body condition scoring is a tool that can be used to monitor health. For deer, an ideal body condition score would be a 3-4 with an increase in bucks during rut. The ribs, spine, and rump are slightly visible in the warmer season but covered during the cold winter months. There will also be a small depression on each side of the tail head and a lean appearance along the belly. For a buck in rut ribs should not be visible and there may be a slight fat roll.

Where does protein fit in a deer herd’s nutrition program? Protein is required for all the organs in the body and the amount needed varies with fluctuating factors such as genetics and environment. Protein is broken down by bacteria in the deer’s rumen and then digested in the stomach. Bacteria can degrade the higher quality amino acids which are used for antler growth. Antlermax by-pass proteins are protected from being broken down by the bacteria and the amino acids are digested in the small intestine. Deer protein pellets are designed as a supplement and greater than 16% protein due to forage often being inadequate. Some buck diets have as much as 20% protein and there is no research to prove adverse effects from this level or higher. Wild deer consume many high protein plants, and on excellent forage conditions, they grow bigger antlers which indicate protein is necessary for genetic potential. Keep in mind a genetically average buck will only be average even on the best feed program but a lesser feed will allow him to be less than average. Good genetics require good nutrition to grow a trophy rack.

Antler growing season and fawning is quickly approaching and access to proper nutrition during the winter is vital to success. Proper management, genetics, and nutrition work together for optimal performance. For more information on deer nutrition stop by your local Central Valley Ag Feed Location or visit

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