What are the differences between feeding corn and protein pellets to your deer herd? Corn is used primarily as an attractant to lure deer to a location for viewing or hunting and is low in overall nutritive value. Protein pellets contain a balanced ration with micro and macro nutrients and is used to supplement the natural diet of deer to help them maintain a consistent and high level of health and body condition–which translates to increase body weight, fawn production and antler growth.
Protein pellets contain vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins in a highly digestible form. Digestibility is the key to absorption and without being absorbed into the blood and body, it is less efficient. Deer absorb the pellets with very little waste in their feces, making the protein pellet a very good vehicle to deliver the ration. Percent of protein and the micro- and macro-nutrients differ among rations and among manufacturers, so read the tag carefully to be sure you are getting a quality product with the right ratios of components for what your deer need at varying times of the year. Range conditions are constantly changing and so the nutritional needs of your deer should be changed accordingly.
The purpose of feeding protein pellets is to stabilize and level out the peaks and valleys of the nutritional variations in the native habitat as the seasons change. It is not a “cure all” or designed for a specific period of time but best used year around and to help the deer stay in top physical condition. Ideally, it should be used from the end of the rut until hard antler development. By doing so you are helping does to carry, deliver and nurse fawns, and bucks to recover from the rigors of the rut and grow a new set of antlers. A buck begins growing his antlers approximately one week after shedding the previous set. When bucks are malnourished and drawn down from the rut or lack of rainfall, their bodies go into a self-preservation mode (thus why skinny bucks shed earlier) in order to stay alive. If supplemental feeding is used during post-rut, the deer would not sink to such a low nutritional level and his body would not have to play “catch up” from a nutritional perspective. So, offer feed after the rut through the entire antler growing process and you will increase the chances your bucks will grow to their full genetic potential.
Corn has a specific role in many management plans even though it is not as beneficial as protein feed. Corn contains less crude protein (7-8%) than a deer’s body requires just for basic daily maintenance (12-14%). Corn to deer is like candy to you and I. It is high in starch and carbs so it works well for energy and heat production but does almost nothing for nutrition.
Because it is so attractive to deer yet poor in nutrition, it is not recommended to offer corn in free choice feeders (unless mixing it with protein to get deer accustomed to a new feed, but that is another subject completely). Corn is used in spin/timed feeders to attract the deer when and where you want them to be. Corn spun from a timed feeder helps to put the deer on your schedule and, combined with several boxes of quality ammo, is the best winter management tool available to landowners.
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