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Got Protein?

Just like the old commercial for milk .... Got Milk? Protein is a big part of healthier deer; faster body development (increased weights) and increased antler growth. We are about to hit a slump in the yearly native protein cycle, just when white-tailed deer are hitting their peak need for it. Can deer make it through the remainder of the Summer without other protein sources? Certainly. It is not that protein no longer exists as the Summer moves along, it is just that deer must consume more vegetation to get their requirements met. 6-7% protein dietary levels are needed just to maintain body function in a white-tailed deer. 16% is considered the minimum if deer are to maximize growth protentional both in terms of body weight and antler growth. Studies conducted on pen raised 2 year old bucks have shown that those fed 8% protein vs 16% protein levels averaged antlers 1/2 as large. By year 4 those same study animals produced 20" on average less antler than their counterparts fed the 16% protein feed. Not only that but further studies showed that inadequate protein levels which led to poor antler development in the 1st few years of life were not reversed in following years even with adequate protein levels. White-tailed doe milk is 8.2% protein add that to the normal requirements of 6-7% to just maintain body condition and you now once again need in the neighborhood of 16% to maintain the doe and provide enough protein to fawns for good growth. If she has twins (very common) then she must consume even more high quality protein to support herself and the fawns. Healthy fawn birth weights are 4-8 lbs. When their nutritional needs are met their body weights will double in 2 weeks. Only after 2 weeks can they begin to digest plant material in a limited amount. Fawns are typically not weaned until 12-16 weeks of age. If we assume a May 15th fawning date that means that fawns are relying on the doe for some amount of nutrition until at least late August. Deer fed a diet which had 16% protein over a diet that had 13% protein gained and average of almost 8% more body weight within their 1st year. Deer fed a diet of 9.5% protein gained 1/2 the body weight on average of deer fed the 16% protein diet!




Protein Needs of White-tailed Deer


Young native vegetation, especially legume species, are higher in protein than more mature plants. Many of the native forb species tend to be closing in on maturity as we get into June. It is generally accepted that deer require 6-8 lbs of green vegetation / 100 lbs of body weight during the summer if adequate protein levels are present in that vegetation. However, if protein levels are not in that 16% range then body and antler development begins to slow or the animal must begin ingesting even more low level protein sources to make up the difference. Have you ever weighed out 10 lbs of clover or alfalfa vegetation? Its a lot more plant material than you would think! Another factor that comes into play is that as the more green vegetation is ingested the more salt the deer must ingest as well. A certain level of salt is actually a necessity in white-tailed deer in order for their body chemistry to work the best. High water levels from ingesting large amounts of green plant material "dilute" the salt levels within their body chemistry. Water can also become a limiting factor in a different way. Does require the ability to consume 4-6 quarts of free water (not derived from plant material) per day in order to lactate. With out water the does cannot produce milk. Bucks can survive in the summer with limited free water which they ingest through feeding on green vegetation, though not ideal.


How do we fix the protein slump? Well some people can and do provide supplemental protein in terms of feed. However, many people cannot or choose not to for a variety of reasons. In terms of native vegetation, the ability to set back and restart plant growth in late Spring is an excellent way to boost available protein in plant levels during the Summer. Again, young actively growing plants are higher in protein than more mature plants. Through mowing, growing season burning, disking or other disturbance methods we can start new plant growth in the Summer months. That is assuming we have adequate precipitation to push a new flush of growth. Adding or increasing the percent of native legume species, such as with Wild Senna, Partridge Pea, Illinois Bundleflower, various native prairie clovers, etcc. will increase available protein levels in native plant areas. Obviously in terms of food plots soybeans are the king of protein. Consider planting some soybeans that can be considered just green browse for deer, with no intention of them producing grain. Soybeans themselves are not a cure all. No single vegetation source provides all the minerals and nutrients that healthy deer need. By providing diverse plant communities on our land allows the deer to pick and choose the plants that will best fill all their needs.

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