Deer are very finicky when it comes to eating especially when it is supplemental products offered to wild deer. Any one of a hundred things can influence how often and how much a deer will use a supplemental mineral.
By Matt Harper
The form it is in (block versus granular), location of the mineral site, soil type, salt content, competition and aggression of other deer, how long the site has been established and a host of other factors all affect how much a mineral site will be used. Over the years, with the use of thousands of trail camera photos and a lot of trial and error, I have figure out a few factors that will influence mineral consumption both positively or negatively.
I group these factors into two categories; non-nutritional factors and nutritional factors. To begin with in the non-nutritional category, location is critical.
Deer prefer mineral sites that are in cover and not in the open. When creating sites, I try to find heavily used trails or even better, trail crossings somewhere in cover (brush or timber) and create the site just off that trail or trail crossing. But this does not guarantee that deer will use the site. I have used the same product literally 100 yards apart from each other and the deer heavily used one site but not the other.
So when I am creating new sites, I try several locations and the ones that receive continued use I replenish and abandon the sites with little or no use. Basically the deer will tell you where they like to eat.
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I also have found that unless there are major changes in the vicinity of the site (i.e. logging, flooding), a mineral site will receive increased usage with each year. Research has shown that once a site is used, it will often become a part of the feeding and movement pattern. Also, fawns will learn mineral site areas from their mothers and will return to sites even after they are weaned.
Granular minerals seem to work better than blocks, as most of the usage of blocks occurs in the dirt around the block as it leaches into the soil.
Along those same lines, deer will more readily utilize minerals that are ground applied than offered in a man-made feeder. Increase aggression by certain deer (usually adult does) that “guard” the site will decrease the number of deer utilizing that particular location. I normally recommend at least one site per 40 acres to minimize site competition with more sites needed in high deer population areas.
One final consideration for non-nutritional factors is soil type. I have found that mineral sites located in sandy areas are utilized less than mineral sites in heavier soils. I cannot definitely answer why this is but I would theorize that it has to do with excessive leaching in sandy soils or possibly even the gritty nature of sand causing decreased consumption.
Nutritional consumption factors revolve around the attractant agent used in the product. Salt is the most common attractant used in mineral supplements. The mode of action of salt attraction is the balance of potassium and sodium in the deer’s body.
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Potassium and sodium must maintain a balance at a cellular level and since most green, growing vegetation is much higher in potassium than sodium, deer seek salt during the spring and summer as their bodies crave the sodium. However, salt can also be an intake limiter for the very same reason and is often used in livestock minerals to limit intake.
So a product that is very high in salt will likely have less total consumption than a product lower in salt. However, there must be enough salt in the product for the deer to be attracted to it. As you can see, getting the right salt level in a mineral can be tricky.
As autumn approaches, vegetation begins to mature and drop in potassium. Salt becomes less of an attractant which means that in order to get continued mineral consumption, a different type of attractant must be used.
IMPROVE YOUR KNOWLEDGE ABOUT MINERAL SITES NOW! Creating a great, effective mineral site for your deer involves more than just dumping a bag of something on the ground and walking away.
Do you know the difference between a mineral lick and a mineral supplement? Or what five minerals are the most important for herd health?
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