Preparing Deer and Elk for Winter

Fall is in the air, the rut is here and it’s time to start thinking about hunting and managing our herds in preparation for winter… and we never know what we will get for winter weather this year! I think the last few winters have been so mild that many of us have been lulled into a false sense of security as far as preparing our livestock for the demands of very cold, blustery, snowy conditions. Your spring survival rate for all age groups, including your fawn crop, may very well depend on the management decisions you make now.

I will briefly run through a few items that most of us are aware of but maybe haven’t paid much attention to in recent years. In no particular order, here they are:

  1. SHELLED CORN – I know many of you supplement or extend your pelleted ration by feeding shelled corn going into and during winter, and don’t seem to have any “apparent” problems. But I think this practice does more harm than good. If you do it to save a little on the feed bills, you may be fooling yourself… it could be costing you more than you think. Think about it… why do you feed a nutritionally balanced pelleted ration for most of the year and then un-balance it at a critical time of year by adding shelled corn?? It just doesn’t make any sense to me! Shelled corn is low in calcium, high in phosphorus and lacks many essential micronutrients which can cause or predispose your animals to many different metabolic diseases. Pelleted rations should contain a minimum of 14% protein.
  2. WATER – We don’t usually think of water when we discuss nutrition, but water is one of the most important nutrients. Clean water should be available for your deer at all times. Sure, deer may survive on snow, but they will fare much, much better with access to clean, fresh water.
  3. MICRO NUTRIENTS – Trace mineral salt blocks are cheap insurance against some nutritional deficiencies. The Great Lakes area is noted for its lack of several trace minerals, notably selenium, molydenum and others. I think most, if not all, of the “wonder blocks” that are sold by some of the traveling feed salesmen and other carpetbaggers are a waste of your money. Just plain ole TMS blocks from your local feed supplier will do just fine.
  4. FEEDER SPACE – There should be adequate feed bunk space so that all your deer get some “time at the table.” Herd bucks and even older does will sometimes guard the feed bunks and not allow other deer access. Watch your deer at the feeders and make sure they all get enough time to eat without being driven away.
  5. WINDBREAKS AND SHELTERS – Deer need protection from the wind and blowing snow. If you don’t have woods or terrain to provide this protection, then a solid-wall fence or buildings will help. In fawning season, does also need some coverage or protected areas to drop their fawns.
  6. RUBS – Bucks need access to rubs to remove the velvet. The act of scraping and marking is also a very important requirement for proper socialization and trophy antler development. I have seen many facilities and lots where there were no trees or brush left smaller than an inch or so in diameter. Deer need smaller diameter trees and brush to properly clean the velvet and dried blood from around the base of the antlers. Also, the tannins in the bark and sap of live trees and brush help to give the antlers good coloring rather than the bleach-white antlers seen at facilities lacking proper scrapes and rubs.
  7. DE-WORMING – After the first killing frost is the best time for fall de-worming. There are many products that can be added to your feed at the feed mill, or you can “top-dress” your feed with one of several products available at your local elevator or feed supplier. Don’t use the same de-wormer that you used last spring. Rotate your wormers, so that each time you use a de-wormer you use a product with a different active ingredient… and each time you handle an animal, inject it with the correct dosage of Ivomec-plus.

By Dr. Larry Sullivan