Whitetail Deer Breeding

Many people are interested in white-tailed deer breeding. Some because they study deer, some because they hunt deer, and some becuase they have an economic interest in them. A good number of people are still mis-informed, or simply not informed a all. Hunters, landowners and armchair biologist still talk about the barren doe concept that still floats around. You know, the doe that lives in a certain pasture and never has a fawn. This train of thought blames poor fawn production on the idea that many older does do not get pregnant.

In reality, if the doe is not bred during her first estrous period, she will be receptive again in 28 days. This explains the high breeding success in white-tailed deer even in areas where there are many more does than bucks. Research performed in Texas found that on the average that following the breeding season about 90 percent of does sampled in the state were pregnant. Most does will get bred, but it is usually habitat conditions, sometimes predation, that dictate whether or not the recruitment of fawns into the population is successful.

White-tailed deer are known for producing twin fawns. Over half of the does examined in many studies had twins. Triplets were not common, and the occurrence of triplets was typically less than two percent. In whitetail deer, there are usually more male fetuses than female fetuses. Males represented 55 percent of the unborn fawns over the in scientific studies.

Whitetail Breeding and Fawning Success

An average sample of ten bred does will yield 15 fawns, or 1.5 fetuses per doe. This rate of reproduction can build deer numbers rapidly. However, in some areas, whitetail deer numbers build up slowly and even decline. What gives? Failure to breed is usually not a problem, so where do the fawns go?

Life is full of dangers for a fawn, and food and cover (fawning habitat) is almost always the difference between living and dying for fawns. In many areas, predation is severe unless there is adequate hiding cover for young fawns. Most will ready the previous sentence and conclude that predators are the problem. However, the take home message should be that predators are typically not a problem unless an area provides poor habitat.

In areas of poor habitat, fawns will either die of predator or die from malnutrition later down the road. Imported fire-ants are a problem for fawns in heavily infested areas, but their impact can often mask the real problem. Adequate nutrition is often limiting, and if fawns make it past fire-ants and predators to weaning, they still face the challenge of finding food and cover.

Fawn survival depends primarily on habitat quality. Malnutrition and associated problems are probably responsible for poor fawn survival in many areas. Dry conditions aggravate the problem of inadequate food. Empty belly disease, as in hungry does and fawns, is the most limiting factor across the whitetail's range. Delayed breeding could cause fawns to be born late, which would be a disadvantage on ranges where food is scarce. Breeding in whitetail deer in quite prolific and their population is generally only limited by food.


White-tailed Deer

White-tailed deer are the smallest members of the North American deer family. Whitetail are found from southern Canada to South America. They are an important part of the landscape in all areas where they are found. During summer months deer often use fields and meadows, searching for forbs high in protein, but whitetail deer are primarily browsers. Read more...

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