Feeding and Handling
OF WINTER FEEDING
Research within the enclosure takes place during spring, summer,
and fall. Research is designed to measure deer and elk response
to habitat changes on summer range only. Because winter range and
migration are not part of the research, deer and elk are kept at
a low-elevation, 805-acre feed site during winter.
To insure that only the effects of summer conditions are measured
in the research, elk and deer are fed hay and pellets during winter
so that the effects of winter weather on body condition are held
constant. Using winter as a control period allows researchers to
measure population, energy, and physiological responses of deer
and elk to the summer range studies.
THE WINTER AREA
The winter feeding and handling area is an 805-acre
fenced portion of the 25,000 acre Starkey Project enclosure
consisting of four primary pens, seven pastures, and an "alley"
leading to the elk handling facility. Deer and elk are kept in separate
WINTER FEEDING PROCEDURES
During the winter months deer and elk are fed to maintain a consistent
body condition regardless of weather. Deer are fed 5 pounds of alfalfa
hay or pellets per day and elk are fed 10 pounds of alfalfa hay
or pellets per day. The average amount of hay is adjusted upward
as the weather becomes colder or the snow becomes deeper. The hay
and pellets are distributed in long lines throughout each pasture
to prevent the larger, more aggressive males from dominating the
food source. Also, deer and elk are fed separately so that elk don't
dominate the food source. Pellets are also placed in feed troughs.
Deer tend to utilize the pellets better than hay, and elk use both
hay and pellets effectively.
ATTRACTING AND MOVING
DEER AND ELK TO THE WINTER AREA
Most animals are baited to the winter area with alfalfa hay or
are live-trapped in the study area. Researchers then transport trapped
animals to the winter area. Animals that do not come to the winter
area are fed in place and tested in the same manner as animals at
the winter area.
The winter feeding and handling facility is at a relatively low
elevation (3,800 feet) within the enclosure; many animals naturally
migrate in this direction.
PURPOSE OF HANDLING
To measure the effects of summer habitat change on animals, researchers
check the physical health and reproductive status of the herds.
This is most easily done when animals are concentrated at the winter
area. While the animals are being handled, all unnecessary noise
and activity is minimized to reduce potential stress from human
The specially designed series of chutes and pens at the elk handling
facility allows researchers to get close enough to safely and efficiently
check animals for pregnancy, disease, and overall body condition.
Elk are moved in small groups of 20 or less from pastures down
the alley, then separated into smaller numbers-about 10 to 12 animals-and
moved to a holding pen. Singly, elk are moved through the handling
facility to an electronic scale to check their weight. They then
are contained in a squeeze chute and are blindfolded to minimize
stress caused by direct human contact.
Once an elk is in the squeeze chute, researchers are able to check
the animal's age by looking at its teeth, draw blood to test for
disease and pregnancy status, and change or equip the animal with
a radio collar or ear tags.
After testing, the animals are returned to the appropriate pastures
through a series of gates. Within the pastures, researchers document
the number of offspring produced and the population status of the
herds. Surplus animals can be loaded onto a truck at the handling
facility and released outside the enclosure.
Because deer react poorly to pens and chutes, they are trapped
and handled individually. As with elk, deer are checked for pregnancy
and disease, weighed, then collared and tagged. After handling,
deer are released into appropriate pasture or can be safely placed
inside narrow wooden boxes, loaded on a pickup truck, and released
within the enclosure or to the outside.
EFFECTS ON ANIMAL BEHAVIOR
Wild, hunted herds of deer and elk throughout the western United
States are often fed during severe winters when natural forage is
not available. Research animals at Starkey are treated no differently.
Like many free-ranging herds, they are fed during the winter, but
are subject to a wide array of human disturbances the rest of the
year as part of the research--including road-building, road traffic,
logging, cattle grazing, hunting and other recreational activities
that are traditional uses of National forests. Deer and elk have
not become "semi-tame" on summer ranges in other areas where these
activities are common.