Tag Archives: protein

Does Supplemental Feeding Protein Pellets Really Work?

Supplemental feeding in the form of pelleted feed is a valuable tool in the serious deer manager’s tool belt, as it provides two things: consistency and a higher level of nutrition.  As it’s name implies, supplemental feeding is something done to augment or increase the natural feed available to deer.  Seasonal cycles, weather patterns and man-made disturbances can cause the nutritional value and availability of native deer foods to be unpredictable with a wide swings in quality.  Supplemental feeding is a safety net or an insurance policy against periods of low nutritional value and/or availability.   Of course, there are different degrees of supplementation and how it is used and its effectiveness, but a supplemental feeding program’s primary responsibility is to lessen the blows of low nutrition and keep the deer on a more level nutritional plane throughout the year.

Supplemental feeding is just that–a supplement.  When the rains are right and the stars line up, we can’t even compete with Mother Nature.  As you likely know, when it rains, deer won’t eat the protein.  They eat it only when they need it, when the habitat is stressed or defoliated. In the pasture, the deer makes the choice to eat or not to eat protein.  And his or her stomach tells them when and how much to eat.  Some deer eat two bites and leave while others camp out and eat four to six pounds of feed per day.  This is why the amount of protein on the bag means very little.  Don’t get caught up worrying about the highest amount of protein.  You need to worry about the quality of the feed, as a total package, so that when a deer does eat it, he/she gets what they need and when they need it.

Protein feed is not the magic bullet.  It simply is a supplement to level out the peaks and valleys of the nutritional swings the habitat typically goes through as the seasons or weather patterns change.  It is not a “cure all” designed for a specific period of time.  It is meant to be used year around and to SLOWLY and STEADILY help the deer stay in top physical condition.  By waiting until July or August to feed the bucks something extra or special is way too late.


A buck begins growing his antlers approximately one week after shedding the previous set.  When he is malnourished or pulled down from the rigors of the rut and lack of rainfall his body go into a self-preservation mode (thus why skinny bucks shed earlier) in order to stay alive.  If supplemental feeding was used during post-rut, the buck would not sink to such a low nutritional level and his body would not have to play “catch up” from a nutritional perspective.  As the body suffers, so do the antlers.  Antlers are a bi-product of nutrition.  Providing supplemental feed ensures that the buck will have enough to eat no matter what the native forage is providing so that his body will be healthy enough to support the growth of antlers to his full genetic potential.

The same benefits go for the does.  If you provide an additional source of feed, the does will be healthier and able to carry, deliver and nurse a healthier fawn(s).  Fawns that receive a good start at life get bigger and stronger and therefore increase their chances of survival, especially as winter approaches.

So, does supplemental feeding work?  The answer is yes, as long as it is part of the bigger management plan. Here are some situations that illustrate what does and does not allow a supplemental feeding program to be successful:

Works:  Good quality feeders that keep out moisture and are in a feed pen at least 60’ diameter to exclude non-target animals such as livestock, feral hogs and javelina.

Doesn’t Work:  Leaky feeders that let in moisture to spoil feed or placed in a feed pen so small that deer are afraid to jump in or only a couple of deer can get in at any one time.

Works:  As many feeders as financially affordable spread evenly across the ranch.  Even distribution means even use and keeps the animals spread more evenly across the landscape.

Doesn’t Work: One feeder near the ranch house, or several feeders bunched up only compounds the problems.

Works: Keeping protein feeders filled from post-rut through shedding of velvet, year in and year out.

Doesn’t Work:  Putting protein out a couple months a year, maybe this year, maybe not.

Works:  Placing protein feeders in areas of the ranch away from high traffic and near escape cover.

Doesn’t Work:  Placing feeders by the main roads with high traffic or in wide open fields.

Works:  Use protein feeding as a part of your overall management program and after you have deer densities reduced to what the habitat can support.

Doesn’t Work:  Keep providing feed with no plan for reducing the additional deer you are growing with the feed and allowing population to go uncontrolled to the decimation of the native habitat.

Works:  On small, low-fenced acreage, get all neighbors cooperating with harvesting and providing protein.

Doesn’t Work:  Be the only one in the neighborhood feeding protein while the neighbors are shooting every two year old buck that crosses the fence.

The immediate benefits of a proper supplemental feeding program include increased body weights.  During the second year fawn survival rates will improve sharply and on or about year three, improved antler production will be evident on those young bucks raised on the feeding program.  As  you can see, supplemental feeding is a long-term project and should not be taken lightly or sporadically in order for it to really work.Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailby feather

Antler Growth & How You Can Help

Deer hunters hunt for many different reasons, that is understandable and hard to argue with.  What about trying to produce the bucks with the largest racks possible for hunting purposes?

Deer antlers are captivating and upright humans have had a desire for them since cave paintings were created.  Antlers are the fastest growing bone known.  Antlers are obviously different than horns, so what does it take to grow antlers and what can you do to encourage more growth on your deer lease or hunting ranch?

Unlike horns, antlers are grown and shed annually.  The antler growing cycle for whitetail bucks lasts only 128 days, or just over four months.  Yes, a spike and a Boone and Crockett grow their racks in the exact same timeframe!  How can this happen and why are some years better than others when it comes to antler development?

Mother Nature is incredible.  She mandates that the whitetail buck’s antlers are secondary to the health of the body.  The body takes precedence, or priority, over antlers in regards to bone health, internal organ health, protein and mineral consumption and overall total physical health.  This means that if the buck’ s body is lacking in nutrition or minerals or otherwise stressed, the antlers will suffer.

A buck usually comes out of the rut in physically stressed condition.  Some bucks can lose 30% of their total body weight during the rigors of the rut and they are tired, sore, perhaps injured and in need of immediate repair.  After the breeding season is complete, the antlers are cast, or shed, and testosterone production is reduced severely.  This is Mother Nature’s way of helping the buck to regain his health and eventually storing fat in preparation for next winter’s rutting season all over again.  Antlers are used as tools to determine mating privileges, rights, and for dominance establishment.  After the breeding season, the antlers are no longer needed and they are shed and the cycle continues again.

When the bucks shed their antlers, the 128 day antler growing cycle begins approximately one week after shedding.  Upon antler shedding, the raw pedicles heal over to protect the open wound and soon thereafter the new set of antlers begin to grow.  If the buck’s body is still recuperating and healing, the antler growth will be slowed as protein, minerals, vitamins and blood flow are redirected to the body recovery effort.  Once the body recovery effort is complete, those valuable antler-growing nutrients are redirected into antler growth.  The 128 antler-growing clock has been running, so the longer it takes the buck to return to good health, the less time he has to produce the current year’s set of antlers.  So, the condition of the buck’s body as he comes out of the rut is directly proportion to the quality of the rack he will be wearing the following hunting season!  Clear as mud?  The clock begins upon shedding and the sooner he begins to grow his antlers, the more time and growth he can produce in that period of time, resulting in longer tines, extra points, more mass etc.

Now, all of this antler growing process is also controlled by age and genetics, but this article is an example of the nutrition portion of the pyramid requirements for large antlers—genetics, age, and nutrition.  With age and good genetics, a buck can still grow a poor set of antlers if he is nutritionally stressed.  Or a buck with poor genetics, good age and nutrition will just grow a big set of poor antlers as he lives up to his full genetic potential.  The three requirements must all be met to produce a large set of antlers.  Antlers are genetically based and environmentally influenced.

What can we do on the ranch or lease to help the bucks out of the rut in the best possible physical condition?  First is balancing the total herd with the available habitat.  Fewer deer will have more food to eat and they will be healthier, that is an easy one.  Keeping the adult sex ratio tight is also recommended so that the females are bred during their first estrus cycle so that the fawns are born in the optimum time of year.  The balancing of the herd with the habitat is not quite as easy because this depends on rain and weather patterns.  The amount of available forage the habitat produces is a moving target.  In good rainfall years, the habitat can produce an excess of usable forage plants and that is why larger antlers are produced in wet years.  In poor rainfall years, the habitat can not produce enough usable forage plants for the animals and that is why smaller antlers are produced in wet years.  The manager must be aware of the habitat condition coming into and out of each deer season and make adjustments accordingly.  So, don’t get stuck in the habit of shooting X amount of bucks and X amount of does each and every year because the habitat is changing and so must the animal population that relies on it.

Obviously, cattle numbers must follow this same strategy as the deer harvest.  Cattle are much easier to manage than deer, so moving cattle into different pastures, rotating them more often or simply reducing the herd is a very quick and easy fix.


Habitat management techniques that result in forage plant regrowth is also a valuable tool to help produce “extra” forage for deer.  Shredding, aerating, fallow discing and prescribed burning are good examples of this technique.  When most deer forage plants are top-removed, they resprout from the bottom and create more of a “bush effect”.  The extra limbs and stems produce extra leaves and the entire plant is now lower to the ground and allows for increased forage accessibility and availability.  The tall, thick stands of eight foot tall brush is little value to deer, but if you top removed that same brush, it would provide tons of usable, palatable, nutritious forage for deer without killing the parent plant.  The plants may be re-stimulated every three or four years for continuous and on-going forage production with very efficient per acre costs to the manager.  Keeping your deer woods in a mosaic pattern of regrowth is ideal for many other important reasons, but none are as important as improved foraging for your bucks in order for them to recover as quickly as possible so they may begin their new antler growth again.  The clock is running, how are your bucks doing right now?Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailby feather

Cottonseed: The Good & the Bad

I get asked often about cottonseed as an alternative whitetail deer feed.  The answer is not short or quick so here is my typical answer to that question:

Pros:  First, cottonseed is readily eaten by whitetails (and mule deer) and is very high in crude protein.  It is high in fat and oils, is high in digestibility and protein, and not much else will eat it (such as raccoons, feral hogs or javelina and most birds).  Second, cottonseed is generally a cheaper alternative to pelleted feed as a source of fat and protein.

Cons: First, the availability depends on the current year’s cotton crop and distribution.  So, in drought years, the availability is here today and gone tomorrow, which is a huge no-no when feeding deer.  Constantly switching the feed, feed type, feed blend, protein content, etc will disrupt the gut microorganisms in the stomach that process and digest the food.  By feeding cottonseed for a while, then stopping and restarting over and over, you actually keep the efficiency of the deer’s stomach in a stage of disruption, resulting in poor digestibility, processing and other stomach issues that negatively affect the deer’s overall health.  Second, cottonseed is not a consistent source of nutrition among batches or loads.  One batch of cottonseed is different than the next and the first issue comes right back into play again– minor disruptions of the stomach processes.  Third, the physical handling of cottonseed is expensive.  The actual cottonseed feed itself is generally cheaper than most bagged protein; however, it has to be handled only in loose bulk and cannot be properly stored or bagged or put in bulk grain bins like protein or corn.  The handling involves an eighteen-wheel truck dumping the cottonseed somewhere on your ranch and driving off.  Next, you have to move it into the barn or shed or cover it with tarps or just leave it outside to the elements.  It will “harden up” and create its own protective cover (remember the oils?) and does a pretty good job of shedding water, but it is still sitting on the ground and out in the open.  Next, ranch personnel have to shovel it either into their ranch truck or in the front bucket of the farm tractor and deliver it to the feeder location.  Once at the feed station, it again has to be handled either by shovel from the truck into the wire mesh cylinder or dumped by the tractor bucket.  Cottonseed cannot be fed from traditional corn or free choice protein feeders (due to the fluff and oils) so a separate wire mesh cylinder has to be used to contain it.  It won’t stand up alone, so the cylinder has to be tall and held upright to keep it orderly and better utilized.  Fourth, and certainly most important, cottonseed creates a condition called gossypol toxicity.  Gossypol is a chemical found in the seed that will actually render all male animals sterile.  Yes, sterile, as in no babies made that year.  However, the gossypol will leave the animal’s system once it stops eating the cottonseed, and fertility will return.  So, ranches that feed cottonseed MUST remove the feed, or stop feeding it, as the bucks remove the velvet from their antlers.  This timing gives the gossypol time to pass through the buck’s system and leave before he begins producing live sperm.  Remember: the only time a buck produces live sperm is while he is in hard antler.  I have seen several ranches that either didn’t believe it or forgot to stop feeding cottonseed before hard antler and they actually had zero fawns produced that entire year.  Talk about hard on a deer management program!

So, if you can overcome all the many issues of feeding cottonseed–availability, lack of consistency, storage, handling, and stop feeding it at the right time–it can and will work for you.  Many ranches have full time ranch hands to do the feeding, so the owners tolerate the handling and distribution issues, but sometimes the availability and lack of consistency still impacts them from time to time.  And the majority also use protein pellets as well.  Cottonseed is a great alternative for cheaply restoring body condition after a hard winter and for providing protein to grow antlers.  It is not considered a complete feed, but can work well in conjunction with a balanced feeding program.

When beginning a cottonseed feeding program, there are two things you can do to help deer adjust to eating it.  First, allow the protein feeder to dry up for several days, thereby almost forcing it on them.  Second, throw some corn in and around the basket.  Being something new, bright white, fluffy and totally different in texture and taste than your deer have EVER seen, they may still be scared of it.  There is nothing in nature that even resembles cottonseed in a basket, so they may not even know they can eat or that it is good for them.  Follow these tips, be patient, and the deer will eventually accept the new feed and begin eating it.

All photo and content herein is copyrighted property of Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC and may not be copied/reproduced or otherwise used in any way without express written permission from Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC. All rights reserved.Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailby feather

Corn vs. Protein Pellets

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.

All photo and content herein is copyrighted property of Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC and may not be copied/reproduced or otherwise used in any way without express written permission from Spring Creek Outdoors, LLC. All rights reserved.Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailby feather