Magic Pills for Whitetail Deer

We’ve all heard the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.” With maximizing antler size being the main concern for many whitetail deer herd managers, we want to alert customers to an increasingly common nutritional practice that delivers less than what it promises.

The Problem with Silver Bullet Additives

Managers will take a complete ration and then blend or cut that ration with commodities perceived as nutritionally dense or top dresses that are often marketed as "miracle pills" for increasing antler size. Believing the social media hype, some managers pay insane amounts for over-priced rations, mistakenly assuming that their average antler size will be the same as another ranch regardless of genetics and management or that the "miracle" antler-producing additives found in one product will correct any nutritional flaws with their current ration. Sadly, while these "silver bullet" additives typically don't hurt anything, most are cost-prohibitive and have little research (beyond anecdotal evidence) to back up their claims.

With today’s focus on genetics in the whitetail world, we are seeing larger-antlered deer than ever before, mainly due to genetic selection and management. Yet it has become commonplace for these types of "silver bullet" additives to take credit for great genetics and management. We can’t compare deer from 20 years ago to today’s deer, as they are simply a different animal genetically on well managed properties. While there are multiple micro ingredients and trace elements that are important for ration performance, simply mixing a topper will not fix a poorly formulated ration. Claims that deer will improve due to the addition of one certain micro ingredient, regardless of how that ration is formulated, is simply not based in truth. Some additives may, in fact, negate consistent intake--which, in turn, will negate performance. Complete ration formulation is key if you intend to get the most from a supplement or feed in whitetail deer.

The importance of using a complete ration

So how do we know if a ration is missing something? The most important property a deer ration must have is consistent palatability. Deer must consume the feed consistently to elevate their nutritional plane and maximize their genetic potential for antler growth. Those that have done their homework understand that in order to increase consumption in whitetail deer, you need a positive nutritional response when deer consume the feed. This takes a lot of nutritional savvy with deer being concentrate selectors. This means they are able to experience positive or negative feedback relatively quickly after they consume a particular forage or feed. Based on whether this feedback is positive or negative, it should be easy to determine whether they will consistently consume that particular concentrate.

Consistent intake should be one of the primary variables used to determine if a feed is better for deer in captivity simply based on how they consume it week after week. However, it should not be the primary concern with deer on pasture. Intake with deer in captivity should be evaluated over the course of several weeks, not just a few days. While intake should also be evaluated as a partial measure of nutritional quality for pasture rations, it should not be the only variable. Deer on pasture can back off rations, poorly formulated with high grain levels, when natural forage is available before you see acidosis.

Speaking of which, many pelleted rations claim to be better simply due to intake. Many times that intake is due to high grain inclusion and the fact that grain is extremely palatable to deer. That is why corn is used as an attractant in limited amounts. Grain is relatively cheap from a commodity perspective and ultimately increases a feed manufacturer's margin when used at higher inclusion rates. But grain can also create a nutritional concern because it is extremely high in starch or NFC. This nutrient is energy-dense, and while deer will readily consume a ration at first that has a high amount, it will ultimately have a negative impact on their digestive system. Starch can decrease the pH of the gut if fed in high amounts and can cause what’s known as acidosis, which can cause nutritional stress and even death in stressed whitetail deer.

Record Rack formulates their pelleted deer feeds to a max NFC level to be sure they provide as much safe energy as possible while limiting the negative effects of starch. While grain is a great attractant and energy source when used in limited amounts, it should never be cut with grain simply to try bringing the energy level up. The potential for negative effects from acidosis will far outweigh any of the benefits. If body condition is a concern, the total fat level in the ration needs to be increased--but again, consumption needs to stay the same or increase if you want to see a response.

For more information on feeding Record Rack or any of our wildlife supplements, call or stop by today. We'll be glad to help you out!


NOTE: This post is adapted (with permission) from content proudly brought to you by our partners at Nutrena and Cargill Animal Nutrition. The original article appears here.

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