Nutritional Quality of Mule Deer Diets in the Texas Panhandle
Sowell, Bok Forrest
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Increased brush control in the Texas Panhandle has prompted the need for baseline information on mule deer in order to assess potential impacts of habitat modifications. Since there was little published information concerning food habits or nutritional quality of mule deer forages in the Texas Panhandle, this study was conducted to: (1) identify plant species consumed by mule deer, (2) determine the crude protein (CP), phosphorus (P), and digestible energy (DE) content of plant species selected, and (3) estimate seasonal nutrient levels of mule deer diets. Two study areas were selected. The Canadian River Study Area (CRSA) was located along the breaks of the Canadian River in Oldham County, and the Clarendon Study Area (CSA) was located near Clarendon, Texas in Donley County. Deer on both areas consumed primarily forbs (40%) in the spring, but deer on the CRSA took a large amount (24%) of sand sagebrush. Skunkbush sumac was the dominant plant species (42%) in the summer and fall diets on the CRSA. Half-shrubs, skunkbush sumac and forbs were taken in equal proportions (25%) each during the summer on the CSA. Fall diets on the CSA consisted mainly of half-shrub sundrop (24%), skunkbush sumac (14%), and juniper (7%). Winter diets or the CRSA contained mostly forbs (53%), juniper (15%) and skunkbush sumac (10%). Winter diets on the CSA consisted mostly of wheat/rye (27%) and juniper (27%). Analyses of seasonal diets on the CRSA indicated mule deer were on a poor to fair nutritional plane. Percent CP remained at 7 from summer through winter, and went to a high of 10 in the spring. Phosphorus levels ranged from 0.12 to 0.14% from summer through winter and rose to 0.17% in the spring. Digestible energy was low (1875 kcal/kg annual average), but was probably adequate for moderate growth and production in all seasons except fall. Analyses of seasonal diets on the CSA indicated mule deer from this area were on a fair to good nutritional plane due mostly to the presence of wheat/rye. Crude protein estimates ranged from 13% in the spring, 8% through the summer and fall, to 11% in the winter. Phosphorus levels were lowest in the Gummer (0.1:^%) and fall (0.09%), and highest in the winter (0.17%) and spring (0-20%) due to wheat/rye intake in the latter two seasons. Digestible energy was probably adequate for growth and moderate production (1949 kcal/kg annual average) in all seasons except summer. Low DE and P levels in the fall diet could have some influence on breeding success.