Question: “We have a ranch in Central Texas that we have started a deer management program on. Need to now how much protein a deer eats a day. We starting a feeding program using protein pellets this past January. They hit the feeders hard, then pulled away, but are now hammering the feed. I am interested in about how many pounds of protein the average whitetail deer will eat in day? Between the 3 free choice feeders on the ranch the deer are eating about 750 pounds of protein per week.
We have set up game cameras on the protein feeders to catalog the bucks using them. Of course, we are getting a ton of photos and the bucks are looking good. We are seeing the same bucks over and over again on the same day. They will be on camera 4 to 5 times a day. Any idea how much these bucks eat a day?”
Answer: Sounds like you have entered into what most deer managers refer to as supplemental feeding. When it comes to supplementation of deer, protein pellets are hard to beat. Not only do they provide protein, they are packed full of other nutrients that whitetail deer need. As for the amount of feed that deer consume, I go by the rule of 2 pounds per deer per day. Of course, there are a lot of factors involved.
Some of the major factors that come into play are deer density, feeder density, number of protein feeders, habitat condition (amount of precipitation), non-target species, as well as whether or not the ranch is high or low fenced. If the property is low fenced, then do the neighbors feed or not. What is their property like? Do you overgraze with livestock? Do they?
In my experience, feeder density is important since animals compete for feeder time. Dominant animals tend to get the most feed. Less dominate get less. Wimps get none. One way to ensure most of the deer are getting the best nutrition is to install about one free choice protein feeder per 100 acres. On a 1,000 acre ranch we once had 3 feeders, but after adding 2 more we noticed that monthly feed consumption went up about 25 percent. This meant other deer were not getting the feed before.
Mature deer tend to dominate the protein feeder and not let younger deer in. This is especially true when feeders available only at a low density.
As for seeing your bucks several times a day, this is not uncommon. I suspect your deer are not eating much more than 2 pounds of feed per day, although they could be consuming less. If they are eating more than two pounds of protein per deer each day, then you probably have horrible habitat conditions or a deer density that needs to be reduced. Either scenario could mean time to start pulling the trigger and removing some mouths off the range.
They best thing you can do is to survey your property. Deer surveys are an excellent deer management tool even though they are not 100 percent correct. No deer survey is perfect, otherwise it would be called a census. At least then, you can correlate protein consumption with the estimated number of deer on the property. You will also see the habitat effect I mentioned earlier. More rain means less protein consumption by whitetail because of better deer habitat. Less rain means higher feed costs!
As stated earlier, there are many factors that can come into play when trying to estimate protein consumption by whitetail deer. How much do deer eat? The short answer is, it depends. The next time someone ask, “How much protein does a deer eat each day?“, simply tell them about 2 pounds a day, plus or minus. It seems to be a good estimate based on many scenarios that I have encountered over the years. Besides, it’s difficult for anyone to prove you wrong.