In the wild, a whitetail deer will eat 5 to 6 pounds of native vegetation every day. Food consumption, whether native or supplemetal, depends primarily on habitat quality. However, the rule of thumb seems to be that deer found in good habitat will eat no more than 2 pounds of protein pellets per day. If you plan on feeding protein pellets to improve whitetail hunting in your area, this can be a good approximation for estimating feed consumption.
Obviously, deer like protein feed for many reasons, but they are attracted to it on good habitat simply because it taste good and it requires no effort to find. They will eat it, but they still consume native vegetation and prefer forbs when they are availalbe. Most of the ranches I work with see a decline in protein use during spring green up and when cool season forbs become available.
If deer are found in an area with poor habitat, then deer will consume more feed because they have to. The amount of food deer eats varies based on individual animal based on age, antler growth, and lactation, but deer in pens eat 3-4 pounds of food day on average.
And although we know that deer breeders can raise deer in pens on protein pellets alone, the purpose of the MLDP program is work with landowner that wish to improve their deer herd and maintain healthy deer habitat. The program is based on keeping the deer herd at or below the carrying capacity of the available habitat so that all wildlife species from management practices.
Good habitat in Coryell County can support 1 deer for about every 8 acres. Understanding that supplemental feed can reduce the consumption of native plants by deer, a property can increase the deer density to about 1 deer for every 6 acres with a supplemental feeding program without adversely affecting the habitat.
Consumption rates of over 2 pounds per deer per day are indicative of an overstocked ranch. A property with too many whitetail deer will see signs of over browsing and the habitat will begin to suffer. Continued over-stocking will cause severe habitat degradation and the deer herd will have to be reduced to about 1 deer per 12 acres through whitetail hunting so that the native habitat can recover.