Wildlife management is both art and science. In wild populations habitat needs to be the primary source of nutrients for the resident animals.
From a management perspective, improving nutrients available from the habitat is one of the most important things that a wildlife manager can do.
Supplemental feeding is often used as part of a management plan to assure that both bucks and does are better able to achieve their genetic potential, especially during times of nutritional stress. Nutritional stress periods occur in wild populations of deer and elk when the quality or quantity of native forage is lacking, especially during times of physiological stress such as antler growth in males and gestation and lactation in females.
A buck's or bull's antler growth is directly related to his nutritional status. If nutrition is limiting anytime during the year, but especially during January through June, antler growth may not be maximized. In addition, both fawn or calf crop size and survivability is directly related to the nutrition of both the female and her offspring.
In order to make nutrition decisions which may result in a healthy, productive deer or elk herd, several factors should be considered:
- Seasonal forage availability and quality;
- Physiological state and nutritional requirements;
- Number and kinds of animal species;
- Livestock and grazing management practices; and
- Production goals.
A complicating factor when planning a nutritional program for deer or elk is their changing daily intake levels from winter to autumn. Daily dry matter intakes range from 1.5% of body weight in the mid-winter to over 3.0% in the summer and autumn. While this difference in dry matter intake is caused by several things, a key factor is a shift in the metabolic rate. Deer, for example, have a high metabolic rate in the late spring to fall and a low metabolic rate in the winter.
A supplemental feeding program, that utilizes a high quality feed that provides all the nutrient classes in proper amounts, can help ensure a deer’s nutrient needs are being met year-round. Preventing nutritional stress by consistently meeting nutrient requirements can support optimal antler production, health and ultimately profitability.