GameKeepers Emag

Gamekeepers Winter 2015

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#farmingforwildlife 125 predator population. Predators account for a por- tion of fawn mortality, but they certainly are not the only danger fawns face, nor are they the worst. Accidents, disease, and other parasites are all factors that affect mortality, but the primary killer of fawns has more to do with the herd's social structure than any outside force. High population densities lead to high stress, and as any ecologist will tell you, increased stress produces a whole host of problems within a pop- ulation. More fawns are abandoned by does who cannot meet their own dietary needs. Once deer reach carrying capacity and food sources are overwhelmed a decline in fawn survivorship is all but guaranteed. Improving Fawn Survivorship The very best deer managers don't want to just talk about what large deer they have on their property. Does, they understand, are a critical ele- ment in management, specifically in their role of producing more fawns and future generation of wall-hanging bucks. But to produce good bucks, four, five, and six years down the line, you need to take care of your does, and subsequently your fawns, right now. Abandonment, stillbirth, and undernourish- ment are all risks facing your fawns this year, and a high mortality this year will be costly in years to come. For that reason, you need to take the time to minimize fawn mortality, and that means pro- viding does and fawns with the food and cover they need in the winter and spring. Many deer managers are concerned with avail- able food and cover in the summer and winter months when bucks are growing antlers, but this is a short-sighted management practice. To maintain a healthy deer herd you need to dedicate yourself to providing deer with adequate forage during the winter and spring, when does are under the most nutritional strain and the risks of losing fawns is highest. Predator control is one step, and it can be beneficial to spend the winter months working to keep coyote populations at bay, but it is perhaps more important to feed your does and help them build the reserves they'll need for milk production and to give birth to healthy fawns. All winter forage is not created equal, so don't assume that just because there is food that it provides the right type of nutrition for deer. In areas that have been cleared, invasive Amur honeysuckle is one of the first plants to reappear in disturbed ground in many areas of the country. This plant grows quickly and stays green through much of the winter, giving the impression it's a viable food source and that white- tails have plenty to eat. In reality, it's a low-nutrient shrub that outcom- petes other native food sources, so in an area where forage appears abundant your does could, quite literally be starving. This winter stress results in fawn loss in the spring, and while winter-killed deer are easy to identify, a low fawn survival rate is often less noticeable. Feeding does during winter Begin by looking at food sources that are cold tolerant, attractive and provide the nutrition does need. Legumes are high-quality forage that will help sustain deer through the lean months, so that's a good place to begin. BioLogic's Winter Peas are annuals that are planted in the summer in northern latitudes and during the fall months in the south, and this cold-tolerant blend offers sufficient protein to hungry does and grows well in a variety of soil types. Winter Peas are also very attractive, and deer tend to focus their feeding on them heavily, so if deer densities are average to high you can expect pea plots to be grazed or overgrazed in a hurry. Because of the nutritional content and palatability it's a good idea to provide ample peas as a primary autumn and winter food source for whitetails, but be sure that you plant enough so that the deer don't outstrip their food supply. You must overwhelm the amount of mouths utilizing the crop to realize "terminal yield." Fawn recruitment is critical to the long-term success of the property you man- age. Avoid the temptation to focus all your attention on monster bucks in the short-term, protecting fawns preserves trophy hunting for the future. © Brenda Carson

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