For years, hunters have been required to keep their deer numbers at carrying capacity. The reason was most often that a natural food source could sustain the herd.
Now a long-term study of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department may provide better reasons — bigger antlers, bigger deer and stronger fawn crops while saving money.
“It’s easy to go into the population with forage or a forage bucket and make it good or better. We wanted to see how they would respond to their environment without (supplement) feeding,” explained Ryan Ritz, CARE Area Director of Wildlife Management and one of the biologists involved in the research.
The study investigates the role energy in a food source plays on deer quality with the goal of not creating a better commercial forage or feeding method, but using what is natural on Earth.
Usually when talking about deer forage, it’s about protein, carbohydrate and fat levels. Energy is rarely taken into account.
“We’re not saying protein isn’t important. It sure is, but what about energy,” Ritz said.
Energy is determined by looking at the calories in the food source and how much of it is digestible organic matter. Some of the highest energy levels in Texas are mast like nuts, seeds, and fruit, Ritz said, but plenty also come from herbs and lawn plants followed by layering plants.
The study looked at more than just the effect of what deer eat. It also looks at the deterioration of quality across generations due to a lack of good food sources, and whether it can be reversed.
“Being a product of their environment, there are ecological cues that are passed on from generation to generation,” Ritz said.
The study conducted in the Kerr area used two herds on forage, one of which had an energy level of 2.8 kcal per gram considered good or adequate for deer health. The other was an energy level of 2.2 kcal per gram or less than the energy level of a healthy deer.
The idea, Ritz said, is to find out how variations affected body size and horn instantly and from generation to generation, as well as affecting fawning.
Some of the differences were amazing. Deer on high-energy forage showed an average difference in antler growth of about 24 inches. They also weighed about 20 pounds and their body size, height, and height were also larger.
What was somewhat surprising was that although its effect on lower forage was smaller, the researchers did not see differences in fawning.
“We put the females into a breeding state, and they reproduce. Those with low energy will have a large number of twins and many children. They were replacing body size with reproduction,” Ritz said.
He added that while some of the findings are surprising, the early research provides a blueprint for deer management.
“There are things that we did not fully anticipate. This gives landowners a chance to go back to their management practices and plans and see what they are doing over a long period of time,” Ritz said.
He added that the results show the need for land management to sustain the growth of high power plants.
“For growth and regrowth, there are ways to beat and improve it such as prescribed fires, grazing systems and short-term grazing. Keep the landscape in good growth and recovery condition,” Ritz said.
The key is knowing which systems and technologies work best in each area of the state because Texas’ geography varies so much. And of course, the big variable that cannot be manipulated is precipitation.
“Soil and rain, that’s 80% of the equation. Some areas don’t have a plant base. They have limitations because of soil and rainfall,” Ritz said.
While this study did not look at the effect of energy on spike dollars, the final stage of the study is to determine whether the herd can overcome the early lack of energy in their diet to return to higher quality animals, and if they can, for how many generations that do it. Takes.
A massive change is underway in the state as farms and farmland are devoured for recreational purposes. In many cases, new landowners see the initial quality of deer and want to quickly improve it by bringing in farm-raised deer. However, if TPWD proves to be true in the next stage, these landowners already have the high-quality deer genetics. The exotic deer may not be over 200 and older, but the indigenous deer that account for more of their area.
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