Winter supplementary deer feeding in Home Park

Deer and fawns feeding, mainly consisting of does
Deer and fawns feeding, mainly consisting of does

The fallow deer (Dama dama) in Home Park are considered a ‘captive wild herd’ as they are enclosed in the walled park, but are free to roam within this space and are able to lead a natural life and display all the normal behavioural characteristics of the species.  There is a duty of care towards the herd’s welfare and to supply extra feed in the winter.  Feeding begins at the end of November through till the middle of March depending on the weather.

Feeding coincides with the end of the rut, or mating period, and can last up to 10 weeks.  Bucks (males) fight and mate.  They lose body condition and body weight during this period and they hardly eat in the peak of the rut.  The bucks main preoccupation driven by testosterone is to mate at this time of year.  This also coincides with the time that fawns become independent of the doe (mother).  The does are at their leanest as a result of yielding milk for 6 months and consequently have used most of their fat reserves.

Weather also plays a big part at this time of year as the cold and wind can have an adverse impact upon the deer. As a result, they have to eat more to keep warm and maintain condition.

The deer are ruminants; they sit down after feeding.  Food is regurgitated from the rumen and they chew the cud in the same way that cows do.

The deer feed we provide are ‘Monarch deer cubes’ which are designed to fulfil all the dietary needs of the herd.  They have a protein content of 16% and contain all the minerals to get the deer through this lean period.  The deer cube size is small enough to enable the fawns to ingest and all the deer benefit if the feed is laid out in long lines so each animal gets its fair share.  The deer are fed a minimum of 0.5 kilo per head and a maximum of 1 kilo per head per day on days of hard frosts and snow.

Deer mineral lick
Deer mineral lick

The ground work of feeding and monitoring the deer every day pays off in the long run as the herd comes out of winter in the best condition and able to be self-sustainable once the park grassland is growing again in the spring.  The deer manage the acid grassland in Home Park by grazing it, maintaining an open sward and halting succession by other woody plants that could take over if not keep in check.  The grazed grassland has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in respect of the diversity of plant life.

In the spring we also put out salt/mineral licks as deer may be lacking from essential minerals from their natural diet.

Sodium          maintains water/ nervous system /muscle contraction
Magnesium stimulates milk yield
Calcium/phosphor                   bone structure/antler development/recuperation after calving
Selenium     fertility/general health
Manganese      bones/antlers/teeth
Iron organs/tissues
Copper metabolism
Iodine effective functioning of the thyroid gland
Zinc bone /antler/digestion
Cobalt     synthesis of vitamin B12 for production of red blood cells

My role as Wildlife Officer is to get the full potential out of each animal and preserve the historic deer herd for future generations to enjoy.

Russell Downs

Wildlife Officer

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