We compared the nutritional status of free-ranging white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in 3 natural yards and 1 yard where deer were supplementally fed from 1 January to 31 March 1985 in northeastern Minnesota. We monitored deer nutritonal status by sequential collection and chemical analysis of urine in snow (snow-urine) for urea nitrogen (U), sodium (Na), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and phosphorus (P). Dilution of urine by snow was corrected by comparing these data as ratios to creatinine (C). All deer remained in an early phase of undernutrition; however, declining trends of U:C, Na:C, and K:C in 2 natural yards indicated increasingly inadequate nutrition as winter progressed. Unaltered values of these ratios and P.C in snow-urine collected from the third natural yard reflected stable levels of nutrient availability. Significant (P < 0.05) elevations of Na:C, K:C, and P:C in 2 natural yards with similar snow regimes suggested initiation of nutritional recovery in deer during late March. In contrast, deep snow in the third natural yard restricted feeding activity and was associated with ratios that remained diminished. Elevated U:C, Na:C, and K:C provided physiological evidence of the higher nutritional status of supplementally fed deer throughout winter and their ability to increase nutrient intake during late March despite prolonged deep snow cover. Frequent and quantitative assessments of the physiological status of deer by snow-urine analysis provided an improved understanding of the relationship between snow cover and the nutritional well-being of these deer.
Additional publication details
Physiological assessment of deer populations by analysis of urine in snow