Although this year's set of antlers are what they are, the fall is when we start to build for the next set of antlers. We need to keep body condition up to help the buck get through rut and weather post-rut stress in good condition. That means we need to ensure that the buck has a well-balanced diet to replete bone mass, and furnish minerals and amino acids needed to support next summer’s antler growth and body mass.
Mature white-tailed deer will sometimes go days during the rut without eating and can lose up to 30% of their body weight due to the stress of rutting activity. Post-rut stress is responsible for more deaths of mature deer than anything (including getting hit by vehicles or picked off by predators), because stressed deer are run down and typically have very low-quality forage available to replenish their body reserves. Bucks that are still growing or trying to replenish body reserves in late spring and summer will not grow the antlers that they have the genetic potential for if they are still trying to restore body condition.
How do we meet these year-round nutritional needs? First, we need to make sure the deer density is correct for the land base, which may mean working with a wildlife biologist. Next, we need to look at making sure we are ready to supplement the native habitat when needed, such as during drought, winter, or when the animal has higher nutrient requirements than what they will get off the habitat. This means balancing food plots and supplemental feed to meet those needs. Feeding a complete, balanced protein-mineral-energy supplement year-round makes sense because you are either growing antlers or remodeling bone; and that requires sufficient amounts of each nutrient for maximum genetic expression. Be sure to use a supplement that complements the native habitat and does not replace it. All the supplemental feed in the world will not replace good habitat.
How Deer Use Nutrients
Although antler growth, from pedicle development to velvet shedding, takes about 100 days on average, feeding for antler growth is a year-round job. So let’s step through how a deer uses nutrients from late March through to early March the next year and how that bears on nutrient requirements.
In March and April, as pedicle development starts, the buck needs amino acids from protein and minerals which can come from the buck’s diet. During antler growth from pedicle to the forked antler stage, the buck pulls amino acids from the diet, but minerals start to come from bone reserves as well.
During the rapid growth phase of antler development, late June through mid-August, the buck cannot consume enough amino acids or minerals to meet the maximum possible antler growth rate, so the buck has to pull from bone and body reserves. If there are not ample reserves to pull from, maximum antler production will not be obtained. The main beam could have a smaller diameter and points could be reduced in size or number of points off the main beam could be reduced.
By the end of August or September when antler growth is complete for the season and velvet is shed, antler growth and hence nutrient demand for their growth is done.
It's a Year-Round Job
Just because you don't see antler growth taking place, that doesn't mean it's time to take a break from optimum buck feeding. Late summer to early fall is the most influential time nutritionally on antler development, so be sure you are providing the best you can for your herd.
Meanwhile, we're here to help you make the best choices about feed and supplementation for your deer. Give us a call or stop by so our staff can provide more information on our products and help you round out your your current nutritional program.