In terms of nutrition, winter represents and ecological bottleneck, and a critical survival period. Deer, especially older bucks have burned up valuable fat reserves during the rut, just before natural food reaches its period of least abundance and nutrition. Their very survival may depend on the amount and type of food they can find. Fortunately, there’s much a landowner and land manager can do to assist.
Food plots are typically divided into two categories: hunting or attraction plots and warm-season feeding or nutritional plots. The former are intended primarily to attract deer during the hunting season. The latter are designed to hold deer on the property and provide more nutrition, typically during spring and summer periods. However, both can also offer winter nutrition.
Regular visitors to this site may recall back in July when we discussed food plot strategies. One of the recommendations for hunting plots was Heartland’s Buck Buster Brassicas, a blend of hybrid brassicas, forage rape and turnips. It is primarily the foliage that deer seek during the hunting season, and they may have eaten most by season’s end. But there will still be bulbs in the ground that can provide an important source of winter nutrition. Deer will use their sharp hooves and teeth to will literally carve out the bulbs, sometimes leaving hollowed bowls in the frozen soil.
Another recommendation for fall plots was Buck Buster Extreme. In addition to brassicas, it contains winter oats, winter rye and forage soybeans. As their name implies, the oats and rye will persist, if not entirely consumed. Soybeans, meanwhile, provide an important source of both carbohydrates and fiber.
As also mentioned in a previous installment, fiber is critical do digestion, particularly in winter, when it makes up a significant portion of a deer’s diet. Coarse fiber is difficult to digest. It is actually rumen microfauna (bacteria) that digest the coarse fiber (cellulose), converting it into compounds the deer can then absorb. Therefore, the deer must feed not only themselves, but the microfauna living in their gut.
When done properly, supplemental winter feed also has a duality. In addition to providing additional food for deer, it provides sufficient energy and to promote increased digestive function so deer can actually make better use of both supplemental and natural food.
If you’re going to provide supplemental food it’s important to do it correctly. It may take deer several weeks to adjust to their poorer winter diet. Begin by slowly, incrementally introducing supplements, allowing deer time to build up the required type and amount of microfauna so as not to shock their system.
What you feed is also important. Too often folks rely on corn, which is a good source of quick energy, but provides little of the nutrition deer need this time of year. It can also provide an environment that is unfavorable to winter microfauna. The best supplemental feed is a block or pellet formulation that contains at least 14 percent protein, like Heartland Wildlife Institute’s RackMaker deer blocks.
Heartland also uses an additive called OptiFermXL in some of their supplemental feeds, as well as their RackMaker blocks. This enzyme enhances rumen function and fiber digestion by regulating rumen pH and ensuring essential amino acids. It also contains a complete source of vitamins, minerals, and other growth factors that help enhance animal vigor.
Winter feeding can be an important and positive way to improve the overall nutrition and survival of the deer on your property. It’s important however that you do it right. That means providing the right types of food at the right times. Otherwise, you could end up doing more harm than good.
For more go to: Heartland Wildlife Institute
Bob Humphrey is a certified wildlife biologist whose company, Quality Wildlife, works with private landowners to improve wildlife habitat.