Nutrient Demands of Gestating and Lactating Whitetail Deer

Shane Horrocks M.S.
Wildlife Nutritionist
MaxRax Wildlife Nutrition

Fetal growth and milk production are two of the most nutritionally critical periods of development for Whitetail doe’s due to the high nutrient demands of each production stage. Understanding the doe’s fluctuating nutrient requirements for different production stages, allows us to accurately provide beneficial nutrient concentrations to the gestating/lactating doe and ultimately produce larger, healthier fawns.


Gestation for a Whitetail doe is approximately 200 days and occurs from November to late May or the beginning of June. The fetus develops during the winter months when food can be scarce for the doe. Due to the vast nutrient requirements of a growing fetus, a consistent plane of high quality nutrition can optimize the growth and survival rate for a fawn born in the spring. Gestation in general, requires an abundance of energy, proteins, vitamins and minerals. In the Whitetail doe, nutrient requirements will continue to increase from early conception until parturition. Approximately 20% of fetal growth occurs during the first 4 months of the gestation period. The remaining 80% of fetal growth occurs during the last 90 days of gestation. The doe uses nutrients from the diet and nutrients from her body stores to meet the requirements of the growing fetus. The amount of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals needed for gestation varies extensively throughout gestation and depends on factors such as environment (weather), stress level, body condition, number of fetuses, and stage of gestation. The stage of gestation has the greatest effect on nutrient demands considering the rapid growth of the fetus is occurring in the last 90 days of gestation. Proper nutrition is vital to the growth and survival of the fawn(s) to be born in the spring. Take these factors into consideration and then adjust the protein, energy, vitamins and minerals in the diet accordingly to provide the correct nutrition to your herd. You may also want to consider a completely balanced commercial diet containing proportionally higher protein, energy, vitamins and minerals for gestating deer. Generally, a 16%-18% protein diet with a TDN value between 62-65% should be adequate to meet protein and energy requirements of a doe supporting twins if daily feed intake is normal. Providing the proper nutrition to the doe throughout gestation will ensure appropriate fawn growth and development and will help the doe to maintain the body condition she needs for lactation.


After parturition, nutrient requirements for the doe will gradually increase for consistent increase in milk production as the fawn(s) continue to grow and consume more milk. Energy requirements during lactation depend highly on the amount of milk produced and the quality of the milk produced. A lactating animal may have energy requirements 25% higher than a non-lactating animal with the highest energy requirement occurring with the greatest milk yield approximately 2-3 weeks after giving birth. Consequently, nutrient demands for milk production will be at their highest during this time to accurately support a rapidly growing fawn(s). The doe will use excess protein in the diet, as well as body protein reserves to resourcefully produce milk protein (casein). Lactating doe’s will also use fiber from their diet for the production of milk fat. Whitetail deer milk contains approximately 7.5% fat and 8% protein. Considering that milk is nearly 80% water, removing water and evaluating the milk on a dry matter basis indicates that it can be approximately 40% protein and 37% fat. Looking at the protein and fat concentrations on a dry matter basis allows us to more accurately compare these nutrient concentrations to those found in a typical deer feed. However, achieving high nutrient concentrations in milk requires high nutrient concentrations to be present in the deer’s diet. Depending on the number of fawns the doe will be producing milk for, the nutrient demands for producing superior milk can be challenging for the doe. Adjustments in the diet, especially if the diet is low in protein and energy, may help the doe to manage the increased demands of lactation. If daily feed intake is normal, an 18% protein diet should be sufficient protein for a lactating doe, while additional energy in the diet (65-70% TDN) assists in avoiding a negative energy balance state, which easily leads to weight loss.

Depending on your goals and current management practices, understanding the nutrient requirements of gestating/lactating does may help to provide you with insight and knowledge for producing better animals. Try to start gestating doe’s on a high quality diet at least two months before parturition to help keep her in top physical condition and maintain a healthy weight. Doe’s that stay in peak physical condition during gestation and lactation will not only produce a larger, healthier newborn animal but also will produce greater quality and quantity of milk for suckling fawns.