How Many Pounds of Food do Deer Eat?

Not all whitetail deer in North America eat the same amount of food in a day. It varies based on latitude and deer body size, but strictly for purposes of illustration, let’s just assume that an average deer consumes 7 pounds per day. In a year, that totals 2,555 pounds! If you plan on improving whitetail hunting in your area, then you have to either provide that food through good habitat or supplemental sources.

Let’s also assume that the natural habitat averages 11 percent protein on a year-round basis. (The general consensus among biologists is that whitetails need approximately 16 percent protein during the antler-growing/fawning period from early spring through summer. Eleven percent would be representative of quality native habitat such as is found in South Texas. A study in Alabama showed an annual average protein level of 7 percent in the natural habitat, which would be representative of much of the rest of the Southeast as well.)

Let’s assume that an acre of natural whitetail habitat can produce 200 pounds of deer feed per year, but that only half of that (100 pounds) can be eaten without damaging the habitat. (In the Southeast, average production of native deer forage is closer to 150 pounds per acre.) Deer feeding strictly on native forage can get big, but there will be periods of nutritional stress.

Using an annual production of 100 usable pounds of deer browse per acre of natural habitat and an annual requirement of 2,555 pounds of feed per deer, we see that 25.6 acres are required to support one deer throughout the year.

This is about right for good natural habitat – habitat that has a high protein level. With an average protein level of only 11 percent in the herd’s diet, at a density of a deer per 25.6 acres body and antler sizes are going to be well under the herd’s genetic potential. In addition, many (indeed, most) whitetail populations are underfed, due to excessive foraging pressure on the available vegetation. Put all of this together, and it’s easy to see why we have so many stunted and stressed herds today. In short, improve your whitetail hunting through supplemental forage and proper deer harvest.

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