deer fodder

Cynthia Mueller
Sat, 21 May 2005 14:38:39 PDT
Dear interesting to have a former life as an elephant biologist....

I often used to wonder why my mammoth jackstock (donkeys from 14 to 16 hands at the shoulder - altho those who were really 16 hands at the shoulder were as rare as hens' teeth) would choose to carefully devour the rotted "punk" in old, recently broken up logs, when they had acres of grass, shrubs, treeleaves and other seemingly interesting forbs to choose from.  They would dine only on the punk, leaving the rest of the wooden shell in place, although when idle, confined donkeys will readily gnaw away bark on nearby trees.  Once after a very hard freeze for Central Texas, a hedge of cow-tongue cactus (Opuntia lindheimeri var. linguiformis) was frozen dead.  Time passed.  I was dreading having to cut up and dispose of a dried five foot tall hedge of cactus pads covered with spines.  The next time I looked, the entire thing was gone - eaten - by donkeys and only a small green piece, still living, was lying there on the bare ground.  Surely there would have to be a nutritional payoff for this behavior.

Cynthia Mueller
College Station, TX

>>> 05/21/05 4:05 PM >>>
Judy Glattstein wrote:

A state game biologist in Connecticut once told me that if you
> fertilized just two rows in the center of a 2 acre bean field that the
> deer would eat the fertilized rows for preference. So yes, nutritional
> value is a factor.

The ability of herbivores to detect differences in the nutritional status of
forage (and even mineral content of water) is well known. The most striking
example of this I have seen is elephants calmly feeding on Urtica massaica
(a nettle whose sting is as ferocious as the reputation of the eponymous
tribe) in preference to other lush growth around: nettles are known to be
nutrient rich and 'good for you' when safely boiled.

Further reverting to an earlier life as an elephant biologist, I was
particularly interested in the selection by elephants of certain tree barks,
which they ate in small quantities without wrecking the tree. In these cases
there is almost always a local medicinal use for the bark: in the case of
Prunus africana, one of these trees, its use for prostitis is international
and the demand for bark has led to the tree becoming very scarce in some
areas. I am convinced that elephants, like chimpanzees and other mammals,
are practising zoopharmacognosy, the detection of beneficial, medicinal
substances, and would love to be able to have a go at proving it. If someone
can think of a methodology please let me know!

Sorry to have wandered from the subject of deer damage...

John Grimshaw

Dr John M. Grimshaw
Garden Manager, Colesbourne Gardens

Sycamore Cottage
Nr Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL53 9NP


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