Medina Journal-Register — Now, with the deer season over, one would think the deer are safe until next year. Actually, the months of January, February and March are the deer’s hardest times.
During these months, the only food available to them is browse in the form of tree and shrub twigs. They get their nutrition from the bark on the twigs, and the best is from twigs no thicker than a wooden matchstick. They will consume twigs up to the size of a wooden pencil, but this is a losing battle for them. First, the smaller twigs have the newest growth and their bark has the highest protein content — while the larger twigs have less bark in proportion to their volume, and this bark has a lower protein content.
There is another problem with this larger-sized twig: the body heat and energy lost in converting this to food to nutrients is often greater than the benefits gained.
The same thing happens when deer eat snow when in a weakened condition. The drain on the body to thaw the snow is usually greater than the benefits gained.
Deer can lose up to 30 percent of their weight during the winter and still survive, but after that point it becomes fatal. As a result, it is important that the deer go into winter with a good surplus of fat, especially if the winter turns out to be a hard one. This becomes more of a problem for bucks who were very active during the rut, because they used up much of their fat chasing does and not eating much.
The key to their survival during the harshness of the winter is their inactivity. They really just move and eat less, and their bodies draw nourishment from their body fat. When that is gone, it is drawn from their bone marrow and they “cannibalize” their muscle protein. Once these reserves are gone, the deer will not survive.