Question: “We have started a deer management operation on our mesquite-dominated property/habitat and are interested in better deer nutrition. We know browse plants are an important food for deer, but we don’t know which ones are best. We want to produce more fawns and have better deer hunting. Do whitetail deer eat the leaves of mesquite trees? If so is it a good source of protein? We have some other brush on the land, but are also considering food plots for deer during the spring and fall. Should the mesquite stay or go?”
Deer Management: Mesquite is a good plant for whitetail. Deer will browse young and tender mesquite leaves because they are very digestible. Deer only go for the most palatable stuff and young mesquite is food. After mesquite leaves mature and lignify, whitetail deer will leave them alone. New, young leaves range in protein content from about 20 to 30 percent during the spring but then drop down to (still) respectable 16% during the dry summer months.
Fortunately, mesquite is a hardy plant that produces beans during the summer months in most years. This could be an important source of deer nutrition on your property because of the abundance of trees. Mesquite beans range from about 10 to 13 percent protein. This does not sound overly impressive, but the beans are VERY digestible and also high in sugars and starches. Beans, as a result, are a great source of energy for deer. Protein and energy are important during summer months for milk production in does and antler growth in bucks.
Mesquite trees typically grow on deeper soils. It does not care for areas that are thin on soil. Mesquite has a tap root that needs to go down deep. This tap root actually allows them to do really well in many areas where other trees can’t cut it. Since you have mesquite, I’d assume that you have decent soil for a deer food plot should you choose to go that route, but the question will be: Do you have water? I’d shy away from spring food plots and go strictly cool season. Mesquite is not the best deer food in the world, but it’s not bad either. In fact, is important component of quality deer habitat, especially in areas where it is the most abundant woody plant.