Supplemental Feeding of Deer: Protein Pellets

It’s summer time in Texas and hot, dry weather is wreaking havoc on white-tailed deer habitat. That means deer will be hitting supplemental feed sources where they are available harder than ever. In fact, I’ve already heard from numerous hunters and landowners that whitetail are really hammering protein feeders, and this is on properties that provide relatively good deer habitat. Unfortunately, it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better. That has got everyone, deer included, feeling a little uneasy.

It’s the antler growing season for bucks right now, so that means game cameras have already been deployed. Reports indicate that the majority of bucks have anywhere from 3-10 inches of antler growth and that there are still a good number of does that have yet to domino (give birth). Guys in the pastures as well as camera photos are also seeing a good number of fawns already on the ground. Everyone is aware that natural foods are low, but deer are needing a lot of high quality nutrition right now.

Whitetail Deer Management: Supplemental Feeding of Deer Protein Pellets

If ever there was a time to supplement deer with free-choice protein pellets, that time would be now. Not only will deer manager after deer manager tell you first-hand what the addition of protein pellets has done for whitetail deer found on their properties, but respectable research from many different camps has found that protein pellets (16+%)  really do make a difference for white-tailed deer in a number of ways.

There are many reasons to feed protein pellets, with the most cited one being increased antler growth for bucks. Other positives of this form of supplemental feeding include improved body condition in all deer, which translates into more milk production for lactating does and better muscle and skeletal growth for fawns later into the summer. Deer, both bucks and does, that get a good start the first year of their life will be superior animals down the road.

With natural foods on hold (at best) and deer nutritional requirements on the rise, feeding protein to deer seems like the thing to do right now, but there can also be some issues that arise that come along with the management practice. The first one that comes to mind is, well, cost. Let’s face it, the price tag of the feed alone can get expensive, but then there are also transport and labor costs.

With a white-tailed deer density that is appropriate for the habitat, a general rule of thumb is to estimate average consumption at about 3/4 pound of feed per day per deer day over the course of a year (even though the majority of properties do not provide pellets during October, November, and December). This number varies depending on the rainfall each year and the amount of natural forage deer eat, but averages out to about 275 pounds of protein pellets for each deer on an annual basis. That’s about $55 in feed. How many deer are found on your property?

Another issue that arises with the supplemental feeding of protein pellets to whitetail deer is increased reproduction, as in higher fawn survival. Now, this many not sound like much of a negative, but it really can be depending on the deer management objectives of a landowner or hunter. This phenomenon is something many well-intending managers do not realize until several years into their management program. I will focus more on this topic in the near future, but until then let’s keep an eye out for those whitetail fawns, bucks in velvet and maybe even a rain cloud?

7 Replies to “Supplemental Feeding of Deer: Protein Pellets”

  1. I like to seeing this article at this point in time. It shows the “real” need to understand your herd and quality of your production/management objectives. Yes, we are in drought and yes we are on track here in Central Texas to surpass our “worst since the 50’s” drought period yet again.

    This is also a great example of how food plots should not be planted as a staple source of forage. You just can not count on rainfall. My protein feeder is taking a beating this year with deer consuming about 50 pounds every 1.5 days. Blowing through it! Bring on the rain and give these deer a fighting chance.

  2. Travis, habitat conditions are as bad as I’ve seen them throughout the Hill Country of Texas. In the article, I wrote that whitetail deer consume an average of about 3/4 pound of feed per day over the course of a year, but that takes into account that most managers do not even feed for three months out of the year, and deer using very little protein during (typically) wet springs and the fall.

    Thus, most of the consumption is during the late spring through early fall. At this time of year, and especially with habitat providing very little, deer are consuming feed at a rate well north of 3/4 pound per day, probably more like 2 pounds per deer per day.

  3. We usually cut off protein around mid-September and resume feeding at the beginning of the year. I see us starting it back up much sooner and probably putting some in intermittently. There will be no acorns this year and the deer can only eat so much undesirable browse, although they can still survive on it if they have to (and on some ranches that’s exactly what they’re doing – surviving).

  4. I have one lease that is big enough to manage (7,500 acres in western Oklahoma). I plan on putting 12 300 pound gravity feeders out and start feeding protein in January and feed year round. What percent of protein would you suggest, and can you give me a ballpark breakdown of how much can antler gain I can expect to see in the future years.

    Also, I have adopted a 3.5 year old minimum age and have gone from taking 130-140 class deer to mid 160’s (had the lease 5 years, the people before me killed whatever walked in front of them). Do I need to raise my age or 130 min? Thanks, Todd.

  5. Todd,

    Is the ranch high fenced? What is the deer density (how many deer/10 acres)?

    I can tell you that on 7,500 acres and only 12 300 lb gravity feeders that you may be filling those up a lot. Deer can go through protein QUICK! We went to 1 and 2 ton feeders so we didn’t have to refill them every 2 weeks.

    Making sure they don’t run out of protein is PARAMOUNT during the antler growing times of late February-early September.

    As for improvements in antlers… you will definitely see improvements, but understand that the bucks that may have the best advantage are those that getting the benefits in their mother’s womb (fawns) and will have protein accessible their whole life.

    If you are shooting bucks that are 3.5 yrs of age and they are in the 160’s that’s incredible. We currently only take out cull eights at 3.5 or 4.5. We let the trophy bucks survive to 6.5 before harvesting. On the 10th anniversary of taking over our ranch (and starting protein feed), we killed a buck that scored 193 3/8. We have his sheds from when he was 3.5, and although he had 13 points, he only scored 128.

    Imagine what we would have missed out on!! There are some good articles on herd management on this website and Kerr Wildlife with Texas Parks and Wildlife have some great data and information to help you manage your herd effectively.

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