On social media you frequently see people asking what is the best deer mineral. My answer perhaps gets too complex for people at times. In simplest terms, nutrition has to be consumed for it to be actual nutrition. You can have the prettiest bag and the fanciest name of a product but until the deer eats the mineral, it is not nutrition.
Very few people understand what is on a deer mineral tag. The 2 most important elements on a tag are the calcium levels and phosphorous levels. Deer's antlers are made up of over 22% calcium and 11% phosphorous. Magnesium is perhaps the third most important mineral with sodium being not far behind. Deer minerals are simple math. The higher the numbers the more you are typically getting out of it. If a mineral contains 12% calcium and another contains 18% calcium, you are getting 1.5 times more calcium out of the higher calcium mineral. If one mineral has 1,000 ppm's Zinc and the other contains 3,000 ppms Zinc, the second option would contain three times more Zinc than the other. Yes, there is differences in sources of macro and micro nutrients. For example oxides are less bio-available than sulfate forms. Proteinates, polysaccarides and hydroxides are the most bio-available forms of trace minerals. These are more "time release."
So what do deer need to meet their daily requirements? As much calcium and phosphorous as you can get into them. Excess calcium will typically be expelled through urine and feces. The NRC requirements for the trace mineral portion of a deer's diet include. Zinc 40 ppm's, Manganese 40 ppm, Iron 40 ppm, Copper 10 ppm, Iodine .60 ppms, Selenium .30 ppm, Cobalt .10 ppm. So how do you figure out what minerals would meet their daily requirements? I attached a picture here to help you all calculate that out. In the best case scenario a deer would consume 1 oz/head/day of a mineral. A 150 pound deer typically would eat around 4 pounds of total dietary dry matter per head per day.
So, what makes up a deer mineral that leads deer to want to consume it? Deer and animals in general do not like dusty feeds. You want to have less fines and one way to accomplish this is to use mineral oil to cut the dust down. You also want to have the right amount of salt. The acceptable range for salt is 15-25% salt. If you have lower than that, you will see a reduction in intake and if you get above 25% salt, you will also see a reduction in intake. Salt is an intake regulator. You also want to have a lower level of byproducts in your minerals. Items like wheat middlings, corn distillers, soybean meal and soy hulls tend to attract moisture and the result can be mushy and off smelling mineral supplements once they are exposed to the elements. You also want a natural flavoring. So many people use flavors that might bring deer in temporarily more out of curiosity. Long term, deer do better with a more natural smell and a consistent smell. You want the flavorings to linger and not go airborne. You want to keep the flavors in the mineral and there are little tricks for making that happen.
Lastly, deer resist change. If you are using one mineral product, you should always mix it half and half with whatever your going to try or switch to. Transition the deer from the old product to the new. Keep refreshing your mineral licks at least once a month. You also do not want to dump too much down at one time and don't follow the old tales of putting minerals on stumps. Deer are browsers and grazers. You want the mineral on the ground, just below the surface. A shallow hole around 3 feet in circumference is best. Lightly kick a bit of dirt over the lick the first time. Never dig too deep of hole as water will sit in your lick and create a hard or mushy mineral. That will reduce consumption. Again, no matter how great the tag is, you need the deer to consume the mineral for them to get benefit out of it.