Introducing deer to new feed
Animals adapt slowly to a change in diet from pasture to some other feed types i.e. from grass to lucerne or brassicas. The microbes in the rumen have to change to use the new feed and this takes time, (2-3 weeks before the animal can achieve maximum intake). Managing this transition badly can result in low or no animal growth for the period.
- For best results introduce animals to the diet gradually giving stock time to adjust to the new diet by allowing access to pasture and silage/hay for the first few days. Monitor animals closely as they are introduced to new feed.
- To maximise animal performance avoid short periods on different feeds ie once they are introduced to the crop make sure they can stay there for a reasonable period. Hinds and calves can be introduced to a crop prior to weaning with calves then weaned back on to crop.
Ensure the crop is mature before introducing the deer and allow access to grass, silage or hay.
Fodder beet crops
There is no research data available for the optimal feeding system for deer on fodder beet. The nutrient composition of fodder beet indicates that it should be supplemented about 50% with hay/silage or pasture to balance the diet. Ideally the silage or hay should be fed to animals before they access the fodder beet. The protein content of the fodder beet is low (Crude protein = 10%) so protein can become limiting. However management strategies such as the importance of the age of animal or length of time on a fodder beet crop are not well understood. Anecdotally farmers seem to be using much less supplement and not losing animals although after about 60 days stock can lose condition quickly.
Small amounts of grain fed with grass require little introduction as deer will adapt readily. If larger amounts are required (>25% of the diet) then adjustment is required, starting with a small amount per animal and gradually increasing the amount over a week to 10 days.
There is growing interest in growing lucerne for deer in summer dry regions. Lucerne is a protein rich source of feed and it retains its high quality for much longer than grass. Roughage (hay or straw) and salt both need to be provided when grazing lucerne to make sure there are no health issues. Read the October 2011 Deer Industry News article on how deer farmers are using Lucerne in their production systems here.