Many people think that high-protein feeds are bad for deer.
However, from a nutritional perspective, it is starch, not protein, that usually causes digestive problems for deer.
The perils of too much starch for deer
Like all ruminants, deer need a proper rumen environment to maintain the populations of microbes that digest the plants that the deer eats. Normal rumen pH is about 6.4 to 6.8, or very mildly acidic. However, too much starch, especially if consumed in a short time, results in a great deal of lactic acid being produced in the rumen. This drops the pH, making the rumen much more acidic and killing off the vital microbes. This can result in founder, acidosis, and even death. Founder is usually the result of rapid consumption of a diet that is too high in starch and in some situations causes enterotoxemia (overeating disease). Acidosis and sometimes death are the common result of fast consumptions of starch.
Caution in feeding deer corn
What is the major source of starch for deer? CORN! In addition to being low in protein and minerals, corn is very high in starch, and the rapid consumption of two to three pounds by a deer not used to it is enough to cause serious problems. This is why, if you must feed deer corn, it is best to use a spin feeder or scatter by hand, which will minimize the amount provided and the speed with which the deer can consume it. Conversely, small amounts of starch provide valuable energy and can actually improve the digestion of forages by optimizing the microbe population in the rumen.
The proper deer ration of starch-to-fiber
Researchers have found that there is a proper starch-to-fiber dietary ratio, and this varies by species. Properly formulated commercial feeds provide the correct ratio and make it easy for you to properly feed your deer. It is very difficult to provide the optimal nutrient balance without a thorough knowledge of the composition of the feed ingredients and the nutrient needs of the animal. A thoroughly balanced, high-quality feed is the fastest route to healthy deer and trophy antlers.