Forage, Food Plots, Feed, and Minerals | Summer Nutritional Needs for Whitetails
As turkey season comes to a close, our minds go from beard collecting back on to bone collecting. It’s not a slight switch for us either…but a direct lights off and lights on, basically a drastic adjustment! While we were in more of a hunting mode than management mode while in the woods this spring, we now realize we have just 3-4 short months before deer season arrives. The more troublesome thought is everything that needs to be done before it arrives! What is the most important on our list? Ask yourself that question! In the midst of the never ending to do list of off season management, practice, gear maintenance, and hunting strategy, we realize that there might be far more important aspects of spring and summer to focus our time on. What are these? Well to understand what we should focus our time on for hunting and deer management, we need to understand what is going on with our deer herd during this time, and more importantly the summer nutritional needs for whitetails.
As we sit with a blank stare while watching TV, or in this case, staring at this article through a phone screen, you are panicked thinking of all the management projects to tackle this summer! To settle we should take a break and go back to the woods, but this time in the eyes of the whitetail. While we were busy turkey hunting, whitetails were rejuvenating and recouping from the long winter. While the start of spring is when life returns to the cold desolate woods, a whitetail’s start on spring and summer will be influenced heavily on what forage and food was available during the winter. Rebuilding their bodies takes priority and for this whitetails need protein! Growing antlers, lactating, giving birth to fawns, all of this can only be possible if the deer’s current condition is up to par, and for this we need to take a deeper look into the spring and summer nutritional needs for whitetails.
Now when anyone so much as even whispers summer nutrition for whitetails, the thought of most deer hunters and managers goes straight to food plots or supplemental feeding. While those have their place in deer management, those are not as important in terms of spring and summer nutrition for whitetails.
The spring green up is responsible for the majority of what a deer’s nutritional intake will be during the summer, this includes woody browse, forbs, fungi, mast, grass, and “weeds”, consisting of around ¾ of their diet, crops making up the rest. While it is no secret that deer require forage with certain percentage of protein to maintain body condition, rebuild, and grow, the exact percentages of what protein intake should be at are less known by the general population of hunters and are always changing with the seasons. Taking a step back from spring, whitetails need only about 12-15 % protein in their diet during winter. This mainly constitutes a platform to rebuild body condition after a long rut and winter. The percentage is only what is required to establish a base to launch when spring hits. These percentages ramp up when rain, sunshine, and warmth hit. Spring and summer protein percentage goes from the 12-15 to an astonishing 16-20%. Of course we all know why this amount is required. Antler growth in bucks, fawns, lactation, and putting on the pounds before fall is extremely important and vital for reproductive success. There is no question of the importance of quality forage and food that needs to be available when spring and summer hit, what is important is to decide whether or not you have that forage to supply.
Now again going back to the majority of a deer’s diet during this time, food plots and supplemental feeding should not be in question, rather the amount of browse, plant growth, and more importantly early successional habitat you supply on you property. Plants such as blackberries, black raspberries, greenbrier, and many plant species considered as weeds such as pokeweed contain up to and around 20-30% protein. This high quality forage grows in areas of disturbance and sunlight. Logging roads, old field type habitats, hinge cut areas, TSI areas, or logged forests, all will sprout these species in abundance putting literally tons of forage at the deer’s level.
One could not talk about the summer nutritional needs of whitetails during spring and summer without discussing food plots. This might even be why you are interested in this article, and we get it, we love our food plots too! While the majority of a deer’s diet and summer nutritional needs of whitetails consists of native and early successional plant growth and forage, food plots can/do play a key role. Of the variety of food plot species two in particular play a colossal role in nutritional needs for deer during spring and summer. Now again touching on the percentage of protein consumption needed for antler growth, lactation, and raising fawns, two species in particular are a staple as far as food plotters should be concerned. These are soybeans and clover. Both meet or exceed protein requirements, and each have their advantages for feeding deer, essentially by themselves dominating the food plot world. Soybeans are a 10- 11 month crop and forage for whitetails. From the time they go in the ground in May, to the last bean pod is gone during March or April if enough beans are provided, soybeans alone dominate the food plot genre. Green soybean leaves from the time they unfold themselves and germinate, until they turn in October provide tons of high quality protein rich forage for whitetails during the summer. From November until the last pod is gone, standing beans can provide a staple for fall and winter food sources for deer.
The one or two month period that beans do fall short, can fortunately be made up by clover. By frost seeding or broadcasting clover in late winter/early spring, clover can be established and last for 5-7 years or longer if maintained properly. While the perennial value of clover is understood, the ease, simplistic nature, and quality forage provided with clover food plots make for the perfect spring forage. Before beans go into the ground clover will be up and sprawling providing a carpet of green for deer to mow before beans and other agricultural crops become available. Together, a small clover plot, and large bean food plot can provide enough food plot acreage to sustain and provide the needed forage, with the assumption that your native browse, weeds, forbs, and early successional areas are up to par.
Minerals Stations for Deer and Supplemental Feeding
With natural forage growth and quality at an all-time high during the spring and summer months, another need develops that is often misunderstood. The water and potassium content of plants and green leaves digested by deer during this time, leaves an unbalance. It creates a sodium deficiency making salt licks, mineral licks, or mineral stations extremely attractive. This attraction to salt forms the misconception that deer need mineral licks to grow big antlers, or the more common expression “minerals grow big bucks”. While research supports gains in livestock and captive cervids, we can only speculate as to if and how much minerals help deer, But it does put the mind at ease to supplement or provide them the key nutrients the natural forage is already currently supplying, just in case right?
Of all of these nutrients, protein, and mineral requirements two stand out. Calcium and phosphorous together make up around 30% of antlers (22% Calcium, 11% Phosphorous). This suggests that any sort of salt or mineral attractions or supplemental feed for that matter, should contain around 15-20% calcium, and 8-10% phosphorous. Supplemental feed of course to contain 16-20% protein during this time.
Products like Big and J Attractants Granular long-range attractant has the protein levels high enough and provides attraction to not only supplement bachelor groups on your property but keep them on the property. These mineral stations for deer and supplemental feed stations also give you key areas to place Bushnell Trail Cameras over in order to start taking inventory of bucks.
As spring gives way into summer, it can be extremely advantageous for hunters to brush up on their knowledge of whitetails, and learn the summer nutritional needs for whitetails. With this information you can determine whether or not your property is up to par in terms of natural browse, food plots, and even supplemental feeding or mineral stations. So ask yourself, are you providing enough quality forage and food to meet the summer nutritional needs for whitetails, or do you need to step back and reevaluate what your summer and off season to do list priorities are?