Deer are herd animals and therefore should not be kept individually. Depending on the species some are primarily browsers (eating mainly twigs and leaves), while others are grazers (selecting grasses, herbs and forbs).
Red and Fallow deer are the most common species kept and farmed in the UK; both these breeds are preferential grazers of grasses (rather than browsers). Although grass is the main component of their diet they will also take in woody plants and young shoots in autumn and winter when food is scarce. The life span for Red and Fallow deer ranges from 8-18 years (Red deer tending to live longer).
Deer can be kept for a number of different purposes, for meat (venison); velvet production; hides and skin and also for sport and leisure.
Like sheep and cows, deer are ruminants and therefore require a roughage based diet.
In the absence of upper incisor teeth, deer use a hard dental pad (in front of the palate) and lower incisor teeth, lips and tongue to select food. Food is swallowed with minimal chewing, relying on the process of rumination (regurgitation and remastication) to further break food down at a later point.
Ruminants have a 4 chambered stomach;
The reticulum's main function is to trap large particles for additional rumination
The rumen is a large fermentation chamber populated by microorganisms which break down ingested food. Fibre (Complex carbohydrates) is broken down by the microbial population to produce volatile fatty acids (VFA’s) which are used as the ruminant’s primary energy source
The omasum is made up of many folds of tissue which help to break up ingested food
The abomasum is often referred to as the ‘true stomach’ and is where small particles of food are broken down before entering the small intestine
The small intestine is where the majority of nutrients are absorbed.
Any indigestible or unabsorbed nutrients pass through to the large intestine where they are further digested and absorbed before being excreted.
It is thought that when good pasture and browse is available, deer will receive the majority of nutrients they need from this alone. However, depending on the quality of nutrition in their surrounding area supplementary feed might be required to support growth and development, reproductive performance and velvet yields. As Fallow deer are significantly smaller in size in comparison to Red deer less supplementary feed is generally required.
Feed intake in deer is heavily influenced by the seasons, their maximum food intake being in the spring and their lowest intake during the winter, when food is typically scarce. Their appetite drops significantly (and therefore so does their metabolism) over the winter months, meaning that they often need to be fed well in the run up to winter to account for this.
Care should be taken if feeding conserved forage (such as hay or alfalfa) as deer may have problems digesting them (particularly when in starved condition). If feeding forage, introduce the feed gradually and ensure natural browse and roughage are also available.
When using supplementary concentrate feeds, feeding little and often, ideally two to three times a day is ideal. It is also essential to make any dietary changes gradually over a period of at least 10-14 days.
There should be sufficient water available at all times.
Feeding Guidelines for Monarch Deer Cubes:
Supplementary concentrate feeds may be provided to those with higher than maintenance energy requirements (lactating hinds, growing stock, stags after the rut) particularly when forage and browse quality is poor
1-1.5kg per head per day for Red deer
0.5-1kg per head per day for Fallow deer
Larger quantities can be fed to stags which have lost condition (up to 2kg per day), especially following the rut
Grazing and Management
There are two main husbandry systems used by deer farmers; a park system with minimal input and farm management where deer are managed in a similar manner to other livestock (with more involvement).
Stocking rates vary drastically depending on the type of land, species of deer and age. Fallow deer require less space. It is recommended that there are no more than 7-10 adult Fallow deer and 4-7 Red deer per acre.
In the winter deer should be provided with cover, if there is no adequate natural shelter/cover available the provision of artificial shelter would be recommended.
The Fallow deer mating season occurs in October/November while the breeding season for Red deer runs from the end of September through to November. The gestation period for Red and Fallow deer is around 8 months.
During the rut males ingest little or no food. Therefore depending on other feed sources, it can be advisable to feed stags/bucks leading up to the rutting season.
Hind’s/Doe’s may also require additional feed during late pregnancy and lactation.
Calves/fawns can consume solids at around two weeks of age and may start grazing at this point and will generally wean themselves within 4-6 months.