Don't Let Your Bucks Fall Behind

By Dr. Shawn Campbell
Ph.D -  Animal Nutrition - Texas Tech University
Victoria, TX 77901
361 550 0282        

Deer season has ended, but don't forget about your bucks need for supplementation for next year's antler growth.  This time of the year bucks are struggling to gain back the body condition they lost through the rut and are in dire need of some nutrition supplementation.  Hopefully hunters have realized the importance of keeping some source of protein supplementation out year round.  Without this supplementation, bucks are playing catch-up during the spring green-up, when they should be putting maximum nutrition into horn development instead of refilling body stores. 

As a hunter and nutritionist, I hear and see all the advertisements on the name brand deer protein pellets.  I just say don't get to caught up in paying for that pretty bag with a picture on it, when you can get an equal or similar product that is produced by a local feed mill for a lower usually.  I do feed a 24% protein pellet in my free choice feeders, but this year I am going to try a small feed trial in a few feeders to compare a couple of feeds and see which one I am getting the most out of in terms of consumption and horn growth. 

My observations of free choice protein feeders has been that in free range deer in a low fence setting only consume about 2 pounds of protein per day per deer.  While any supplementation is good, the effect of 2 lbs of protein depending on the crude protein % is still falling short to getting the buck to the maintenance level of 16%, especially during drought times we are hopefully coming out of this winter.  I believe this low consumption rate is probably the cause of mainly a couple of things.  One being that whitetail just don't stand out in open areas for extended periods of times due to predation concerns whether it be from a hunter, coyote or mountain lion.  The second thing would be competition at feeders.  This year I am trying to improve my consumption of protein per day by using roasted soybeans in some of my free choice feeders and a traditional 24% protein pellet in others.  Roasted soybeans, which can have up to a 45 % crude protein level essentially nearly doubles my protein intake if the consumption stays at 2 lbs per day. 

Some of the hunters I have talked with that have used the roasted soybean and corn mixtures in their feeders and tell me that the deer are cleaning up the corn but leaving the soybeans.  It has been my experience that it takes any animal, maybe besides a goat, to have an adjustment period to a new feed.  So give it a little time and use the soybeans in the free choice feeder instead of the spin feeder, because while that time passes for deer to adjust to a new feed stuff and all of that soybean is laying on the ground getting rained on and fermenting you are attracting the hogs.  Feral hogs love fermented roasted soybeans. We use it in hog traps, because coons and deer wont bother your trap after its fermented. 

Remember when starting a roasted soybean feeding program, only start with a 25% roasted soybean and 75% corn mix and gradually bump it down to 100 % roasted soybean.  This will get deer eating the soybeans faster.  Also another tip is if your putting in a new protein program on a ranch, utilize spin feeders to draw in the deer to your protein feeding stations.  This speeds up the process of deer finding the feeding station and getting your deer on the protein program.

Comparing cost of roasted soybeans to a name brand 20 % protein pellet, it's a "no-brainer", the average 20% crude protein deer pellet is going to cost you $9-15/50 lb bag depending on the brand and the 38-45% crude protein roasted soybeans are $10-14/50 lb bag, depending on availability in your area.  So don't pay for the pretty bag, pay for the protein in the bag, that is important stuff, and like I said earlier goats are about the only animal I know that would get any use out of that pretty bag, because they will eat just about anything.

I will be giving periodic updates on my feeding project and letting you know how it is working.  I also haven't forgot about the article I promised on comparing different feed cost, as well as food plot seed and labor cost and will have that article out in my next column.  If you have any questions or need help with your deer management program give me a call.