When it comes to whitetails, few things matter more than proper deer nutrition. Whitetail deer have very specific dietary needs that change slightly depending on the season, terrain and rainfall. There are still issues relating to deer nutrition about which wildlife biologists remain unclear, things like the effects of certain minerals or a complete understanding of foraging habits. One thing remains certain and has been scientifically proven again and again: proper deer nutrition is absolutely fundamental to the peak reproduction, growth and antler development in whitetail herds.
Whitetail deer are ruminant, which means they have a specialized, four-chamber stomach, uniquely capable of digesting large amounts of fiber. Deer are browsers, relying primarily on fibrous foods, grass, leaves, shoots and twigs ends. As such, deer nutrition is almost entirely dependent on rainfall, the abundance or shortage of which can make a big difference in the overall health of the deer.
Not only is deer nutrition closely tied to rainfall, water is also the most important of all nutrients to a deer. Like any other mammal, the body of a deer is comprised almost entirely of water, and they require several quarts of water per day. Even the slightest restriction of water can seriously affect the health of a whitetail deer, causing them to lose weight or stop feeding altogether. But under almost any conditions, deer are quite capable foragers, and if free water cannot be found they will make do with the preformed water contained in plants and forbs.
The most important aspect of all deer nutrition is protein. Deer consume many types of foods, minerals, carbohydrates, lipids, etc. None are as essential to proper deer nutrition as protein, the building block of all tissue and muscle growth. Protein requirements for whitetail deer change depending on the season and sex of the animal.
Protein is most essential and plays the largest part in the development and life cycles of does. Gestation places a large strain on the protein requirements of does, as their bodies shift their nutritional focus towards the growing muscle mass of a new fawn, and does with twins face double the protein requirements. Lactation creates an even greater demand for protein, because the milk of whitetail deer is very protein-rich. Proper deer nutrition and adequate protein intake is most important in does, the life-sustaining force of the herd.
When it comes the maturation and growth of a whitetail buck, protein remains just as vital a component. Proper antler growth is tied closely to deer nutrition, and the protein requirements of a male deer in growing velvet are higher than at any other point in his life. Deer that consume adequate levels of protein at this point will see the greatest body and antler development, allowing them to reach the highest developmental points that come with proper deer nutrition. Conversely, deer that consume less than adequate amounts of protein during this important time will have their antler development stunted significantly. In fact, whitetail bucks that consume inadequate amounts of protein during velvet can face underdevelopment not just during that year, but also possibly for years to come.
The long and short of it is that proper deer nutrition is absolutely essential for the growth, health, and long-term reproductive viability of a whitetail deer herd. The proper combination of water, fiber, protein, minerals and other nutrients allows for healthier mothers, healthier offspring, and a healthier base of antler genetics that have been allowed to reach their fullest potential.