You’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, there is a nutritional practice that is becoming more common every day. 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 deemed as miracle pills for increasing antler size. Some pay insane amounts for rations that are simply over-priced because they believe the social media hype that your average antler size will be the same as another ranch regardless of genetics and management. Often these are sold on the precursor that all rations are lacking whatever pixy dust they are selling, and these miracle pill antler-producing additives will correct all the nutritional flaws that are found in your current ration. These types of silver bullet additives or rations do not typically hurt anything, but are extremely cost prohibitive. Sadly, most will have no response or research to back their products up other than anecdotal evidence.
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. It has become common place though for these types of additives, or silver bullet rations, 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. Claiming that deer will improve due to the addition of one certain micro ingredient regardless of how that ration is formulated, is simply not true. When it comes to additives, I believe any additive that negates consistent intake will, in turn, negate performance when we are talking about complete rations. Complete ration formulation is key if you intend to get the most from a supplement or feed in whitetail deer.
So how do we know if a ration is missing something? The most important property a deer ration mut 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 have to have 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 determines if 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.
Remember intake is important but shouldn’t be the only consideration with deer out of a pen! 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 typically, and ultimately increases a feed company’s margin when used at higher inclusion rates, but at the same time can create a concern nutritionally. Grain 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 all pelleted deer feeds to a max NFC level to be sure we are providing as much safe energy as we can, while limiting the negative effects of starch. While grain is a great attractant and energy source when used in in limited amounts, I never recommend cutting a complete pelleted ration with grain to try to bring the energy level up as the negative effects of acidosis will far outweigh the benefits. If body condition is a concern, the total fat level in the ration needs to be increased, but again consumption will need to stay the same or increase if you want to see a response.
For more information on feeding Record Rack or an evaluation of you current feeding program please feel free to contact us any time.
Record Rack Wildlife Specialist