Manufactured Protein Pellets
Easily the most common form of supplemental feed provided to deer is the manufactured protein pellet. Dozens of feed companies now manufacture their own varieties of deer pellets. No doubt deer pellets are being provided to deer in every state they inhabit as a result of the increasing popularity of supplemental feeding. And I can only imagine how many thousands of tons of pellets are dispensed across the U.S. annually!
Some of the advantages of deer pellets include: (1) they come the closest of any supplement to providing a complete ration that includes most macro- and micronutrients that deer need; (2) they can be custom milled to meet different regional and seasonal deer diets, as well as different manager objectives; and (3) they can be delivered in 50-pound bags or in bulk by the ton.
Some of the disadvantages of deer pellets include: (1) they are attractive to a wide variety of non-target animals including raccoons, feral hogs, javelina, and many birds requiring feeder sites to be fenced; (2) they do not handle moisture well and as a result, they need to be protected from the weather; (3) they are expensive relative to most other forms of supplement; and (4) they are less palatable (i.e., “attractive”) than some forms of supplement requiring the deer herd to be “trained” to eat them on a consistent basis.
Not all deer pellets are the same. Some brands of deer pellets are more palatable than other brands, so you may want to provide more than one type in side-by-side troughs to initially determine which type is most preferred by your deer herd. I recommend having the feed company custom mill corn into the pellet to make the pellets more palatable and to raise the energy content. If your company can’t or won’t custom mill corn into the pellet, I recommend mixing corn with the pellets in the feeders. The good news is that I have sent in more than 30 different samples of deer pellets for lab testing over the last 10 years and in every case, the lab results matched or exceeded what was printed on the bag’s label.
Probably the second most common form of supplemental feed provided to deer is whole cottonseed. Its popularity however, is likely reduced as a result of concern over a pigment called gossypol that is found in cottonseed. Gossypol reduces intake by non-target animals but may also reduce reproductive rates or even be toxic to deer. Graduate student Sandra Bullock, working at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, recently examined the effects of a diet of varying levels of cottonseed fed to penned whitetails to determine if gossypol should be a concern or not. She found no evidence that overall health or production were compromised by diets of up to 30% cottonseed.
Graduate student Krisan Kelley fed a group of penned bucks a diet of 30 to 40% cottonseed during May through October. She measured sperm motility, testis length and size, and antler density of bucks but could not detect any differences from a control group that was not fed cottonseed. She reported that the amount of gossypol in the blood of study animals returned to near zero within five weeks.
Some of the advantages of cottonseed include: (1) it is unique in that it is relatively high in protein, energy, and fiber; (2) it is less attractive to non-target animals including raccoons, feral hogs, javelina, and birds; (3) it weathers better than deer pellets; and (4) because of items 2 & 3, cottonseed can be distributed in simple, cheap cylinders of chicken wire without the need to place hog panels around sites.
Some of the disadvantages of cottonseed include: (1) it contains gossypol, which at diet levels above 30% may cause negative effects to deer; (2) it only comes in bulk so it is less convenient to distribute to feeder sites; (3) it is less digestible than other forms of supplement; and (4) it is even less palatable than deer pellets, so it is often necessary to mix in something more palatable to train deer to eat it.
Soybeans are probably the next most common form of supplement used for deer, especially in the Midwest where they are more commonly grown by farmers. Some of the advantages of soybeans include: (1) they are easily the highest in protein content of all of the supplements; (2) they are hard coated so they handle moisture better than any of the other supplements except corn; and (3) they can be delivered in 50-pound bags or in bulk by the ton.
Some of the disadvantages of soybeans include: (1) they can be expensive depending on market fluctuations; (2) they are the lowest in digestible energy of the supplements tested; and (3) they are more difficult to get in south Texas because they are grown primarily in the Midwest.
Corn is most often used as bait instead of as a supplement, but because it is often mixed with other forms of supplement, I am mentioning it in this article. Corn gets a bad “rap” as being nothing more than deer “candy,” especially from people selling deer pellets. This is unfortunate because, as you will read below, corn is the best source of energy available and energy is often more important than anything else, including protein content!
Some of the advantages of corn include: (1) it is easily the most palatable of all of the supplements; (2) it is the highest in digestible energy, which is the most critical dietary item for deer during fall and winter; (3) it is also the most digestible of all of the supplements; (4) it is hard coated so it handles moisture better than any of the other supplements except soybeans; (5) it can be delivered in 50-pound bags or in bulk by the ton; and (6) it is the most widely available of all of the supplements.
Some of the disadvantages include: (1) it is critically low in protein content, so it needs to be mixed with other forms of supplements high in protein content to provide a better balanced ration; (2) it is more attractive to non-target animals than any of the other forms of supplement; and (3) prices may fluctuate widely depending on the market.
Regardless of which type of supplement you chose to provide to your deer herd, you need to monitor consumption. You can then use what you learn from the trends in feed consumption to alter your program to make it more efficient and more effective in the future.
Join us next week and learn which feeder types and pen designs are the best to improve your supplemental feeding program, in Part IV of this series.
Posted by Dr. Mickey W. Hellickson