Proper deer nutrition is an essential part of growing and producing quality deer under any whitetail management program. Much of that nutrition can be met through native plants and further increased through habitat management techniques. Of course, supplemental forage also helps when natural food supplies are low. The most common methods to improve whitetail nutrition are the establishment of deer food plots during the summer and winter or through year-round supplemental protein pellets.
Food plots are good ways to maintain or increase deer body condition, but they are not a one-stop-shop for managing a deer herd. Use them in combination with other deer management techniques and your property will have a high quality herd. To provide any real nutritional benefit to a deer herd, typically at least 3% of a property must be planted in warm and cool season food plots that are properly distributed across the area. This strategy helps prevent overbrowsing and provides nutrition to the herd on a year-round basis, especially during stress periods.
Use food plots as one of your tools, not as the only one! Other ways to increase and improve the quantity and quality of forage available to deer throughout the year include forest stand improvement through either clearing or thinning, controlled burning to increase available browse, and fertilizing natural vegetation. Providing adequate nutrition to the deer herd also requires maintaining the deer population in balance with the available habitat. This is important because otherwise food plots will not grow well or help the herd.
The benefits of deer food plots can be measured in many ways. Healthy deer weigh more than food-deprived deer. Bucks in good body condition have great antler growth. Well-nourished does have more fawns. In fact, healthy adult does normally produce two fawns per year. However, a doe in poor physical condition will have only one fawn per year, if she gives birth to any at all! When more nutritious food become available through established deer food plots, then all animals within the herd do better. Does with good body condition are able to carry two fawns, and that makes more deer available for harvest.