QUESTION: What elemental minerals are most important for a deer's antler growth? -- Jonathan W.
ANSWER: A University of Georgia study found that antlers contain 11 different minerals. The most abundant were calcium (19 percent) and phosphorus (10 percent), followed by magnesium (1 percent) and sodium (0.5 percent). Others, like potassium, barium, iron, aluminum, zinc, strontium and manganese were found in trace amounts.
Whitetails have the ability to "bank" calcium and phosphorus in their skeletons. When needed for antler development, they are able to transfer these minerals. The remainder of their mineral needs is obtained directly from their diet.
When and where they are present, plants absorb these minerals from the soil and make them available to deer. Where they are lacking - in poor soils - mineral supplements may be beneficial to antler growth. This is yet another reason why soil testing is so important. By following recommendations in the soil test results, you can increase the ability of your food plots to provide trace minerals. If you don't plant food plots, you can also provide minerals in block or powder form.
It should be noted that minerals are also important for other body functions. Mineral supplementation increases forage intake, improves forage digestion and increases reproductive success.
A Mississippi State University study found a strong correlation between body size and soil mineral content, particularly phosphorus. This is likely because phosphorus-deficient soils are common throughout the U.S.
Other research has found that sodium (salt) is also important at certain times of the year. Outside of coastal areas most soils lack sodium. In spring and summer, deer operate on a sodium deficiency as a result of high potassium and water content in their forage. Deer seem to have an innate ability to know what they need, which probably explains why they use mineral (sodium) licks more at this time of year.