Ask The Biologist

I’ll Have a Salad

I’ll Have a Salad

By Bob Humphrey

Cattle farmer asks if whitetails exhibit the same diet shift as his cows.

QUESTION: Female livestock that are healthy and mature enough to breed go through a process of preparing their bodies for the breeding during a period called flushing, where cows will feed on high quality forage to meet this need. I have witnessed a significant change in the doe deer diet at about 30 to 45 days before the rut. The does start to graze on the high-quality forages in food plots (oats, wheat, rye, clovers, triticale, turnips, etc.).  When these forages are limited in quantity, all of the does seemingly won’t have enough of the high-quality foods to meet the flushing needs, and they might experience a less-than-desired breeding result. Is flushing in grazing and browsing wildlife, such as deer, something that is well documented? Have you seen these grazing trends in does of breeding ages? – Eddie J.

ANSWER: I have to admit I was not familiar with this process in livestock, and was unable to find anything suggesting that deer go through it. That doesn’t mean that they don’t. Their diet certainly does change in the fall, but that could also be related to food availability and nutritional needs. As the days grow shorter, the whitetail’s diet naturally shifts away from maturing and less nutritious herbaceous vegetation toward high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods so they can fatten up for the rut and the impending winter. Given that deer and their dietary habits evolved over millions of years, largely in the absence of food plots and grain crops, it seems unlikely they would be at a serious disadvantage if cultivated plants were not available in abundant supply.

That’s not to say these things can’t help. All other things being equal, anything that improves deer health and fitness, particularly prior to breeding season, can only boost their productivity and chances for survival.

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