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Deer Management Articles

Nutrition and Diseases

by T.R. Michels


White-tailed deer in the northern and mid-latitude states should be on their winter home ranges, looking for remaining/preferred food sources. In some areas there may still be some fawns getting bred. In the south they may still be on fall ranges, and still breeding.


Coping with Communicable Diseases
Because the spread of diseases such as Tuberculosis, Chronic Wasting Disease and Necrobacillosis is a concern in areas of high deer concentrations (such as the Midwest and Southeast), since baiting and feeding has been banned in many states, because of the fear of the spread of contagious diseases, you should probably no longer feed deer or provide them with minerals in those areas. If you want to increase the overall health of the deer in areas where the spread of disease is a concern you can still provide adequate winter d nutrition by planting food plots designed for winter feeding and, by providing adequate browse during the winter months.

A recent research paper from the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Wildlife Research Center, in Fort Collins, Colorado, and the Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Wyoming, in Laramie, Wyoming states, "Epidemics of contagious prion diseases can be perpetuated by horizontal (animal to animal) and maternal (dam to offspring, before or after birth) transmission, but the relative importance of each mechanism is unclear. Here we compare the incidence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in captive mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) that is attributable to horizontal or maternal transmission. We find that horizontal transmission is remarkably efficient, producing a high incidence of disease (89%) in a cohort of deer in which maternal transmission was improbable. Our results indicate that horizontal transmission is likely to be important in sustaining CWD epidemics." In short, this study has put to rest the debate about whether or not CWD is a transmissible disease. Deer can get CWD from their mothers, or from other deer.

In areas where the spread of diseases is not a concern you can provide the deer with supplemental feed and minerals in the winter. From March till spring green-up, the protein content of your supplemental feed for deer should be around 20%-30%. This can be achieved by mixing 1 part 30% protein to 1 part corn. The protein content of the food at this time should be around 12 percent. As February comes around more protein in the form of pellets should be added to the feed. As natural food sources are depleted during the winter the protein content of the deer feed should be increased by about two percent each month until spring, when it should reach roughly 20 percent.

Do Your Deer Need Winter Nutrition?
Before you begin a winter supplemental nutrition program or plan a winter food plot make sure these food sources will be used by the deer, or some other species such as turkeys. Deer in many northern and mountainous regions migrate out of their summer/fall home ranges during the winter. The deer you see in the summer, and hunt in the fall and early winter months, may not stay in those same areas during the winter. If deer or other hunted species do not use the area during the winter there may be no need to provide winter nutrition sources, especially supplemental foods, in that area.

Winter Nutritional Needs
If you haven't already started a supplemental nutrition plan, late fall/early winter is a good time to start thinking about it, because late winter means a reduction in food sources for deer, while the nutrition needs of the deer increases. In northern climates cold weather, high wind chills, and damp weather cause heat loss in the animals. In order to maintain a high metabolism to keep warm the deer have to burn calories; they must either find carbohydrate and fat rich foods, or utilize their own existing fat reserves. Walking through heavy snow and ranging long distances in search of foods in the winter also burns calories, which means the deer must find food to maintain fat reserves and body heat.

In order for the bucks to get a jump-start on good antler growth they need to come through the winter in good health. But, because bucks use up so much energy during the rut, and lose so much of their fat reserves during the winter, they often come into the spring in poor shape, which hinders their antler growth. To help the bucks grow better racks, and come through the winter in better shape, you may want to provide the deer with food plots or supplemental feed. High carbohydrate food plots like corn and soybeans are beneficial to both bucks and does in early winter.

Legumes such as alfalfa, Austrian winterpea, berseem clover, crimson clover, hairy vetch, ladino clover (osceola, regal, tripoli,) and partridge pea can provide winter food sources for deer in the south.. Some of these same legumes may also provide winter food sources for deer in the northern states; check with your local seed company, county extension agent or wildlife nutrionist.

Plants that are not often mentioned when it comes to food plots are forbes. Any good source of information on deer foods mentions forbes; forbes are often referred to as wild flowers. Some of the best forbes to plant for deer are birdsfoot trefoil, cicer milkvetch, crownvetch, kale, lespedeza (Bi-color, Kobe, Korean, Serecia), small burnett and rape.

Minerals With the coming of spring, minerals are needed by both the bucks and does, as the bucks develop new racks and the does continue fetus growth. To adequately provide mineral for all of the deer you should have one mineral lick for each forty acres of land. The licks should be placed in high use areas with adequate cover so that the animals readily find and use them. Minerals are most easily utilized by deer in a granular form. They should be supplied on the ground in a sheltered area where they won't be washed away, or in a covered bin.



About the Author:

T. R. Michels is nationally recognized for his action-packed, informative seminars based on his experience as a wildlife researcher and professional guide.

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Website: www.TRMichels.com