Deer health: the wintering whitetail’s metabolism

It’s no secret or surprise that winter climates can prove trying for whitetails. Many bucks forge ahead into the cold months with already depleted fat reserves and body mass after undergoing the rigors of the rut, some as much as 25 percent. Does, on the other hand, have their own problems to overcome. Pregnancy can prove extremely taxing on a doe’s physical condition. Fawns and yearlings aren’t without trouble either. Smaller body size and lack of mass can be detrimental to their survival. 
 
So how do they do it? How do deer endure the harsh and sometimes brutally icy winters? They get lazy. But in the deer woods, keeping activity to a bare minimum isn’t being lazy at all. In fact, this decrease in movement is important to the wintering whitetail’s survival. It aids in conserving energy and fat storage.
But as the calendar moves deeper into winter, inactivity isn’t the only modification going on in the deer woods. Also taking place is a biological phenomenon that is crucial for a deer’s survival in the face of winter’s extremities. In the center of this vital transition is metabolism. 
 
Besides the obvious changes to meteorological conditions, one of the biggest obstacles for deer is the ratio of calories in vs. calories out. On average, an adult deer needs approximately 6 pounds of sustenance each day. When agricultural sources have been harvested, and heavy snow and ice cover the ground, leaving little to eat other than woody browse, getting the proper nutrition is extremely challenging. Woody browse lacks nutritional value and is difficult to digest, requiring additional energy to be spent in the process. All things considered, the naturally occurring physiological and biological reduction in metabolic rate greatly increases the chance that a deer is to live to see the reprieve of springtime. 
 
Read more about the metabolic changes in wintering deer in an upcoming issue of Illinois Outdoor News.

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