Preference for Selected Forage Plantings by Captive White-tailed Deer

While researchers recently have begun to examine production and nutritional quality of forage plantings for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), little research has been done to determine deer preference of commonly planted forages. Due to lack of research, some forages are being inappropriately recommended to supply forage during times of the year they are not productive or preferred. We employed a timed observational method to determine captive whitetailed deer use of commonly planted forages from 1989-1991 at the Auburn University Deer Research Facility near Auburn, Alabama. We recorded feeding activity of 10 deer foraging on 11 cool-season and 6 warm-season forages during 227 feeding intervals. Cool-season forages tested included Coker 820s oats (Avena sativa), Wren's Abruzzi rye (Secale cereale), Marshall (annual) ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum), Pioneer 2551® wheat (Triticum aestivum), Civastro (forage) turnips {Brassica napus), Osceola ladino white clover {Trifolium repens), Regal ladino white clover, Imperial Whitetail® ladino white clover, Tibbee crimson clover (T. incarnatutri), Mt. Barker subterranean clover (T. subterraneum), and Redland II® red clover (T. pratense). Warm-season forages tested included Davis soybean (Glycine max), Quail Haven® soybean, combine cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), catjang pea ( V. sinensis), velvetbean {Stitzolobium deeringianium), and American jointvetch (Aeschynomene americana). Deer preference was associated with growth stages of the forage species. Generally, forages received highest use when they were growing rapidly, relatively high in crude protein, and relatively low in neutral detergent fiber. Of the species tested, oats, rye, and wheat had greatest use from autumn through early winter, ryegrass and crimson clover had greatest use from winter to early spring, and ladino clovers from spring into summer. Soybeans were used throughout summer, and red clover from late spring to late summer. Our data can be used to develop planting regimes for deer in the Southeast based on management objectives that dictate when abundant, nutritious, and preferred forage is needed.

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