Intermittently, I receive a phone call asking me about the interpretation of a feed analysis for wild animals as opposed to domesticated livestock whose nutrient requirements I am more familiar with. These phone calls usually make me do a little more research and I learn something new about animal nutrition with each inquiry.
The first time this happened, I was new to consulting here at Ward Laboratories, INC. A producer called asking why his pheasants were suddenly losing their feathers and then dying. The situation was dire, and his story was quite startling. As it turned out, he was offered a very good deal on some wheat grain and had decided that would be the feed source for his pheasants. Luckily for me the nutrient requirements for pheasants are listed in the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Poultry, so I was able to make a direct comparison between the grain he was feeding and the bird’s requirements. It turned out that wheat grain was very high in energy, however much lower than the protein, and mineral requirements of ring neck pheasants. The moral of that story was to have a solid understanding of the nutrient requirements of the animal you are feeding along with knowledge of the nutrients the feed is providing.
A common wild animal I get asked about is deer. Most of these questions are about supplemental feed for deer for hunting purposes. Deer are unique in because antler growth is very important to hunters. For optimal antler growth deer have a very high requirement for protein. It is recommended that a supplemental feed be greater than 16% crude protein. Deer are also browsing animals not grazing animals meaning that they select the most nutritious portions of plants for consumption. So, it has been shown that the total diet of a deer in the wild can be between 20-24% crude protein. A lot of livestock producers want to utilize leftover feed supplements to feed deer on their property. These supplements were formulated for livestock species consuming roughages not wild browse therefore, those feeds may cause health issues for deer. Sheep and goat feed is low in copper and other important minerals and may cause a deficiency for deer. Horse supplemental feeds are typically for active horses and therefore high in starch which may result in acidosis when consumed by a deer.
Most recently, I was asked about feeding bison. Being unfamiliar with nutritional requirements of bison, I did a little research. Nutrient requirements of bison have not been studied as extensively and are not as well defined as beef cattle. Bison are more efficient utilizers of fiber than beef cattle. They prefer to consume large amounts of grass to smaller amounts of legumes. For the most efficient finishing production bison should be provided with a diet at about 14% crude protein and 70-90% concentrate diet so that energy does not limit growth. Crude protein requirements for bison at other stages are not well defined but are thought to be just below those for productive beef cattle. This is because nitrogen recycling is more prevalent in these wild ruminants than in cattle. A management challenge bison producers face is the sensitivity of bison to cool temperatures and shorter photoperiods. Instinctually, these animals conserve energy during the winter and consume less feed, gain less and are less productive in the winter months. However, during summer months, bison consume more feed, gain weight at a quicker rate and are more productive.
When feeding wild animals, be sure to do some research and familiarize yourself with that animal’s nutrient requirements, as well as common feeding practices by other producers or game promoters. Then be sure you understand the feed ingredients and how they are going to meet those nutritional requirements. Ward Laboratories Inc. can test your feeds to get an accurate report of the nutritents in the feeds you are supplementing and I am here as a consultant to help you research the nutritnet requirements of different animals. After meticulously formulating a diet or supplement, monitor the animals you are feeding to ensure they are healthy and productive.