Performance and dietary preferences of white-tailed deer grazing in north central Alberta

Source: Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 2009, volume 93, issue 6
Little information exists on the performance of deer on alternative forage species in northern temperate environments during summer and fall, the period of inherent maximum growth in deer.
In performance and choice experiments, we compared live weight gain (g/kg0.75/day), absolute [kg/ha dry matter (DM)] and relative (% DM) herbage utilization, relative preference index (RPI) as well as plant community visitation of white-tailed deer grazing alfalfa (Medicago sativa), birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) or chicory (Cichorium intybus) in north central Alberta, Canada. Herbage phytomass and quality was also measured on the grazed pastures. Alfalfa had higher dry matter yields and crude protein concentrations than chicory and trefoil. Chicory had lower neutral detergent fiber concentrations than the other forages. Tannin concentrations were greatest in birds foot trefoil (nearly 55 g/kg DM), well above those in the other forages (<5 g/kg DM). Live weight gain was similar among deer feeding within the paddocks seeded to birds foot trefoil and chicory, and more than two times higher (p < 0.05) than deer feeding in paddocks seeded to alfalfa. Deer spent more grazing time (about 40%) on chicory pastures than on alfalfa and birds foot trefoil pastures. RPI values were greatest for birds foot trefoil at 2.11, intermediate for chicory at 1.40, and lowest for alfalfa at <0.60. Absolute herbage utilization remained similar (p > 0.05) among the three forage species. In contrast, relative herbage utilization was greater from birds foot trefoil (52% DM) than chicory (40% DM) or alfalfa (25% DM). These results suggest that the use of alfalfa with other alternative forages may prove beneficial to deer production, rather than using alfalfa pasture alone.

Title: Performance and dietary preferences of white-tailed deer grazing chicory, birdsfoot trefoil or alfalfa in north central Alberta

Authors: G. A. Chapman, E. W. Bork, N. T. Donkor and R. J. Hudson