As most of us know, deer need the formula of food, water, cover and sanctuary (The “FWCS formula”) to call a location their home. The last two aspects of “cover” and “security” go hand in hand, and are often influenced by pressure, or lack thereof. We want to offer the animals as many of their needs on our property as possible. Obviously on small properties or in certain situations it might be impossible to provide everything they need, but cover, safe areas, and water sources are needed.
This leaves the fourth part of the puzzle; “food.” While we may think we are doing a good job there, sometimes gaps may develop throughout the 12 months of the year. Maybe the crops have declined in nutritional value or been harvested, been covered in deep snow, or worse, been plowed under and the ground left fallow.
This dire situation of “food lacking for wildlife” typically happens during late-winter or early-spring, however, summer can be a tough time, too. If there is ANY period when a property does not offer high-quality food, they’ll simply move somewhere else to find it. And they might wind up hanging from a rafter in your neighbor’s barn.
This is a situation as gamekeepers should desperately avoid. Providing food for 365 days a year is vital to keep bucks on your land all year. It’s important for two major reasons. It allows you to protect them from neighbors who might think a two-year old buck is a good deer to shoot. It’s also important because it provides the nutrition needed for the animals to reach their maximum growth in body weight and antler mass.
A lack of nutrition during even one period of the year can severely degrade a buck’s ability to reach its full potential. If several months go by without high-quality forage being available, the damage can be serious. Countless studies have shown this correlation in both penned and wild deer. And it starts even before birth. Lack of quality nutrition for the unborn deer in a doe’s womb starts young animals off at a lower level than those born from does with all their nutritional needs met 12 months a year. Remember that natural foods, after all, average only 7 to 11% in most areas. For a buck to show you his best set of antlers he will need a year-round diet of 16% protein or better, and does require protein levels over 20% at times, especially when producing milk.
Whether you’re talking about a hot day in August or a snowy, frigid morning in January, it’s imperative to have high quality food available. Sure, native foods are important, protecting and enhancing these native plants is fundamental to a sound food program. But as gamekeepers, one of the best things we can do to provide high quality nutrition is to have quality food plots available 12 months a year.