Economic Optimization of Forage and Nutrient Availability During Stress Periods for White-tailed Deer

Providing a suffcient quantity of nutritional forage should be an integral component of any white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) management plan that aims to maximize deer condition and quality. Deer managers generally attempt to meet the nutritional needs of their herd through some combination of habitat management, food plot production, and/or supplemental feed provisioning. However, nutritional demands of deer and forage quality and abundance fluctuate throughout the year, creating nutritional stress periods and a dilemma for managers regarding how to maximize the nutritional plane of their herd while minimizing cost. We measured crude protein availability in naturally occurring deer forages found in a mature pine forest managed with prescribed fire and Ladino clover food plots during three nutritionally stressful periods for deer on a 259-ha white-tailed deer enclosure located in east-central Alabama. We then used a cost-benefit analysis to determine how to cost-effectively maximize food production by comparing management options which varied by the percentage of total area planted in food plots (0-5%), percentage of pine stands treated with pre- scribed fire (0-100%), and the addition of supplemental feed. Naturally occurring forage in pine stands treated with prescribed fire and food plots cost-effectively maximized food production during June and July without the addition of supplemental feed. However, supplemental feed may be important during September to compensate for the decreased availability of high-quality, naturally occurring forage. Deer managers should understand how the relative importance of each nutritional input varies seasonally in order to maximize the nutritional availability of their land for deer in a cost-effective and effcient manner.

Publication date
Starting page
Ending page