A senior at Sonoraville High School in Gordon County recently won high honors in a national Future Farmers of America (FFA) science competition for a study he conducted on the supplemental feed preferences of whitetails. He also collected some data in his study that hunters and deer managers might find interesting: deer prefer supplemental feed with high fat content over both high-protein feed and plain old corn.
Hunter Pruitt, 17, of Ranger, spent a full year documenting the feeding preferences of deer on his family’s north Georgia property for the study that earned him third place at the national FFA environmental science competition in Indianapolis Oct. 18-22.
Hunter, in order to obtain accurate data of deer feeding preferences, designed feeders that work like vending machines to prohibited use by animals other than deer and reduce waste by releasing only the amount of feed deer will consume. It took a couple months for the deer to figure out how to use the feeders, but after that Hunter documented consumption from three feeders by weighing them every day for 365 days.
The feeders were hung near each other and offered deer three different supplemental feeds. Their locations were rotated to ensure the preference was not related to feeder position.
“What I wanted to do was to test what was the most preferable whitetail deer supplement based on nutritional composition of the supplement,” Hunter said.
His hypothesis was the deer would choose the supplement that gave them what their bodies required. He suspected they would prefer a high-fat supplement since fats are hard to come by in a deer’s normal diet.
The three feeds the deer were offered were a high-fat supplement, a high-protein supplement — both mixed at a 1-to-25 ratio with deer corn — and just plain deer corn.
Hunter’s finding went beyond what he expected.
“They were consuming the Feeder Fat (high-fat supplement) at an alarming rate,” he said. “I mean it was like 10 to 1 over the other two.”
In 11 of the 12 months of the study, the high-fat supplement was the overwhelmingly preferred choice.
“The one month that it got beat was in the month of December, which goes right along with the fact that in November around Thanksgiving is the rut in north Georgia,” he said. “In that month of December, they’re going to be building back muscle mass because both the bucks and the does have run off a lot of weight and muscle. They’re going to be trying to get back body weight with the protein.”
Hunter said during the rest of the year he thinks the deer chose high-fat supplement because protein is readily available at adequate levels in natural food sources, and fat is not.
“It all goes back to showing that the deer is a native creature that knows what it needs to survive,” he said. “And consumption is all based on what the body needs at certain times of the year.
“The results totally blow out of the water what everybody says: that corn is the gold standard, and it’s always going to be consumed the highest over anything. It shows that deer do prefer a nutritional supplement mixed with the feed.”
Hunter plans to continue this study for a full two years to further verify his findings, and he also wants to do this kind of study for a living. He has known since the seventh grade that he wants to be a wildlife biologist. He hopes to study biology at the University of Georgia.