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Providing the best nutrition for deers – Feeding guide

Providing the best nutrition for deers - Feeding guide

Importance Of Deer Nutrition

Whether you are feeding farm sheep, goats or deer, providing them with the proper nutrition is key to maximising their output. The feed requirements of deer generally alter depending on their age, growth stage, season, feed quality, environment and management.

For deer to function best, they need high-quality nutrition. Plant and pasture are two components that make up the high-quality feed that is required to provide enough energy. Deer’s diet choices and seasonal variations in hunger are also significant in deciding how much nutrition they get.

In this article, we will highlight the best sources for feeding deer and the optimum time to provide deer nutrition that will keep them at their best.


Diet Selection For Deer And Factors That Drive Their Intake

Similarly to feeding goats, the predominant feed source for deer is permanent pasture (ryegrass/white clover). However, winter or summer crops, lucerne, silage or barley, are a healthy food for deer and are used to improve their performance at different times of the year.

Deer’s bite-size is smaller relative to their body size because of their smaller mouth. This is reflected by a preference for the higher quality areas of the pasture to shorten the potential grazing time and a longer grazing period than sheep on a comparable pasture. Additionally, swards taller than 6 cm enable deer to meet their feed needs more easily.

Depending on their physiological status (pregnancy, lactation), the feed supply, and grazing rate, deer have also been demonstrated to increase grazing time and rate. A hind will spend around 30% more time grazing than in early gestation during late lactation when their energy needs are at their highest. The kind of forage also impacts the deer’s diet since different forages, such as enhanced perennial ryegrass pasture, shrub/forb pasture, and native hill pasture, have different bite sizes and rates. Forbs are any herbaceous plant in grassland that isn’t grass. 

Deer feeding times can change throughout the year, depending on the day length (photoperiod), resulting in variations in food intake and, subsequently, weight gain. In general, these are low intake and low weight gain in winter (short day length) and high intake and high weight gain in summer (long day length).


Feeding Sources For Deer

Deer mainly graze on pasture or forage for their food. Let’s take a look at the types of food they go for and what benefits they bring.

  • Forage Cereal Crops

Forage cereal crops in New Zealand are predominantly Wheat, Barley, Maize, Oats, Triticale, Ryecorn and Peas. The reason for growing Forage Cereal crops is to achieve as high a yield as possible, with winter growth of these crops outyielding ryegrasses in dry matter production. 

  • Grass

In New Zealand, perennial ryegrass is the most frequently seeded species, usually in conjunction with white clover. The main advantages include strong herbage yields, ease and quick establishment, and good growth in various environments. Additionally, it can tolerate both harsh grazing and animal treading.

  • Legumes

In New Zealand, legumes play a significant role in perennial pastures. White clover is the most common legume and is included in all or most perennial pasture combinations for the quality of the feed.

  • Fodder Trees

International research demonstrates that foraging deer increase their diet with a variety of tree and shrub types. Their consumption seems to be influenced by the structure, size, and frequency of the forage.

  • Herbs

Chicory and plantain are the two enhanced pasture plants frequently used in New Zealand. In many summer dry places, they are employed as a 2-3 year crop after initially being used as part of a pasture mix.

Chicory is a perennial tap-rooted herb able to produce high yields, and plantain is tolerant of a wide range of soil types and more drought tolerant than ryegrass.


Ideal Components Of A Deer Feed

When considering how best to feed your deer, looking at how to provide a balanced diet is essential.

  • Dry Matter

Because all the nutrients are contained in the dry matter, it is crucial to consider dry matter when contemplating silage or to determine how much to feed. As very

dry (>80%) or very wet (20%) silages will be less palatable, the dry matter may also help determine how palatable silage would be.

  • Crude Protein

The type of feed may have an impact on this range. Supplements like grain or corn silage may provide higher growth and lactation performance. When high protein deer feed is given to animals on maintenance, the total amount of dry matter offered may be decreased.


Seasonal Nutrition Requirements Of Hinds And Stags 

For both stags and hinds, high protein content in their feed is important for different reasons.

In summer, before the rut, stags can gain considerable weight and increase their fat reserves. During the rut, stags have little interest in feed and are more interested in fighting and mating; and introducing high protein deer feed may be wise. Breeding stags typically have a poor physical condition at the end of the rut. Stags won’t perish throughout the winter if supplementary food sources, such as silage or grain, are provided after the rut.

About 65% of the mature doe’s life is associated with pregnancy, a dynamic process with changing feed requirements. The target over winter is to continue to maintain the doe’s weight plus support the growing foetus. Once they have given birth, it is important to recognise that lactation and declining pasture quality, and quantity, will make increasing the doe’s condition difficult before mating season. After mating, pregnant hinds can be fed normally to maintain body weight – and then given supplementary feed just before giving birth.


In Summary…

Deer need a variety of foods to make up their daily nutrition intake. Whether tending to the nutritional needs of your stags with an automatic deer feeder or topping up a hind’s weight before giving birth, good feed management is required.

Ensuring your deer receive a balanced diet is important in keeping them happy, healthy and ready for the next stage in their development.

Contact Sharpes Farm Feeds now to discuss how we can match your herd’s nutritional needs.

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