It has been very wet in much of the Midwest this spring. In fact, many farmers are still planting and/or replanting corn and soybeans due to the wet field conditions. In other parts of the whitetail’s range there is a serious and ongoing drought occurring. In fact, it is a small percentage of the whitetail’s range that has experienced normal precipitation and temperatures during the 2011 spring crop planting season. The quality of the nutrition available is a huge factor in white-tailed deer expressing their full potential. In fact, for whitetails to express their full antler, body and fawn development potential, they require a diet with a sufficient quantity of quality forage year round. Certainly whitetails can and do survive in areas where the quality and/or quantity of forage is less than optimal, however, they do not express their full genetic potential. Due to the typical quality forage (primarily soybeans) available during most of the growing season in the Midwest and grain (corn and soybeans – standing or missed during harvest operations) whitetails usually express more of their potential in areas with ag production compared to areas dominated by timber or pasture. The exception is areas like south Texas where supplemental feed is extremely common. Basically the crops produced in the Midwest are harvested, trucked, and fed at many ranches in south Texas – giving them a very similar diet to deer in the Midwest.
When weather conditions prohibit crops (forage or grain) from being produced during the entire growing season, or the quality of the crops are limited because the soil is too moist or dry for the plants to uptake nutrients, whitetails (and other consumers) will not express as much potential because of reduced dietary quality.
Each week that quality forage is not available reduces a deer’s ability to express its full genetic potential. The lack of ag crops can be buffered by quality native forage. However, weather conditions that reduce the ability of ag crops to be established or produce at their maximum potential also limit native vegetation from expressing its best potential.
Except in controlled environments (like us living in a house versus a tent), tough environmental conditions simply reduce the ability of living organisms to express their full potential. It is much more likely that deer will be able to express more of their potential the following year then to offset a lack of nutrients within the same antler or fawn development season.
From a manager’s prospective, the best plan to limit the amount of variation in deer herd health from year to year is to create a very diverse habitat and maintain a deer herd’s population density well below the amount of food and cover available during tough conditions such as drought, harsh winters, etc. Most deer herds can be fairly productive during years with good growing conditions. However, those weather patterns are rare. By maintaining herds and habitat in a state of readiness for tough conditions, both will be extremely productive when environmental conditions are better than average!
To know what environmental conditions you can expect this growing season use drought prediction maps.
Growing Deer together,