Manage Deer Food Sources Carefully in Drought Conditions

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Antler quality parallels the nutrition status of a deer’s diet, which is composed of a variety of succulents, particularly forbs and brush species. Although nutritionally strong and highly digestible, forbs occur primarily in spring and occasionally, depending on rainfall, throughout the year.

By Bob Zaiglin

Protein-fortified forbs grow antlers, but brush sustains deer. During extended drought periods, forbs are limited if not absent, so deer must depend on brush, which remains even during drought. As a result, managers must focus on maintaining a healthy, diverse brush community by protecting preferred plants by controlling populations of wild and domestic stock.

The carrying capacity of a property is fixed and cannot be exceeded without damaging the vegetation upon which deer rely. It’s even more fragile in drought, as regeneration is almost nonexistent.

So it’s obvious the deer population must be controlled, and in the case of severe drought, it must be significantly reduced. The same is true for domestic stock, which use a significant amount of brush, particularly during drought, when there’s a dearth of grass.

Controlling herbivore populations prevents irreparable damage to the brush community, so when it rains, copious regrowth will give deer a surplus of highly desirable forage.

Another method of circumventing the effects of drought is to supplement a whitetail’s diet with a high-protein pellet, a popular yet expensive venture that must be conducted properly. To provide all deer accessibility to the feed, it must be adequately distributed. The latest findings recommend one feeding station per 200 to 300 acres. This is fine in a small area, but when performed on large properties, it becomes extremely expensive and labor intensive. It becomes more disconcerting when you consider the significant amount of pellets consumed by collateral species, such as hogs, javelinas and various birds.

Whole cottonseed might be an alternative method of supplementing a deer herd. It represents an excellent source of crude protein, and hogs generally don’t consume it. Thus, a feeder does not need to be fenced off from marauders, which reduces cost. The feeder design is simply a cylinder of chicken mesh fencing wrapped around three 4- to 5-foot T-posts anchored firmly in the ground. Because it’s fairly easy to develop a cotton seed dispenser, you can rapidly distribute many of them, making them more available to deer.

 

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