Depending on who you ask, the topic of feeding deer can be a hotly contested one. While most people are generally not in favor of actively feeding deer, there are some who make a habit of it each summer and fall.
The reason for this is that, without the proper food sources, the deer could potentially begin to die off in large quantities due to starvation. There are arguments to be made that the North American whitetail deer is already overpopulated, but that is another piece for another time.
So, if you are on the side of those looking to feed deer throughout the cooler months of the year, what can you do to help them get the best foods for their diet? Here are a few things to know about feeding deer.
Do Deer Eat Carrots?
Technically speaking, yes, deer will eat fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apples, and so on. But this is actually not recommended as proper feeding for deer.
Basically, these fruits and vegetables don’t have any real nutritional value for them. Sure, the deer love the taste, but it is not part of their normal balanced diet.
It might not be the worst thing in the world to give them carrots or other fruits and vegetables as a one-off if you see them passing through the area, but they should not be made part of their regular diet if you want to keep them healthy, strong, and able to produce healthy fawn in the coming months.
That leaves the question: what should you feed deer?
What to Feed Deer
The best possible food source for deer is natural food. You can cut down certain types of hardwood trees to help them along.
Their natural winter diet is generally pine needles from balsam fir and hardwood twigs. They prefer species of red, sugar, mountain, and striped maple; as well as white and yellow birch, beaked and witch hazel, and even red oak.
The reason for this specific diet is that deer are very dependent on a specific variety of microorganisms and bacteria that their stomach is able to break down into nutrients for their body. Whenever they have a change in diet, their body has to change these microorganisms to process whatever the new food is.
Generally, when they have a shift in diet, they deal with scours (which is diarrhea) and acidosis (the buildup of excess acid in the stomach), especially when given certain types of cereal grains.
So, if you plan on introducing an artificial feeding area where they have access to natural food, do so gradually so as to not totally disrupt their diet.
You can also feed deer pellets to them. Depending on where you get them, they can be specially formulated for the deer with a consideration for their fiber, protein, and energy requirements. These pellets are also crafted with an eye toward the unique digestion of the deer as well.
The deer might not even recognize the pellets as food initially. But if you introduce them with some oats, corn, or alfalfa, they should become acclimated with this type of food.
Cereal grains are another commonly fed deer food. There is some debate about this option because it doesn’t really fit their balanced diet. Still, coarsely milled or rolled oats can be easily digested by deer and even reduce the chances of problems should there be a shift in their diet.
You will want to avoid feeding the deer pure wheat, barley, or corn, though. All of them are much too high in starch and can lead to severe enough digestive problems that could even cause death.
Lastly, there is the option of alfalfa or hay. Just take caution whenever you feed deer either of these foods, especially if the deer look starved. There is a chance that they could have major digestive problems with these foods.
Make sure to feed it to them gradually and, if possible, ensure that they have access to the natural foods listed above.
Recommendations for Feeding Deer
As you can see, appealing to their digestive tract is a major concern when feeding deer. They aren’t like other animals who can eat most anything with no issue. If their digestive system is out of whack, it can be quite serious and even cause them to die.
That said, there are definitely some tips that you will want to follow for feeding the deer, primarily throughout the winter where they may struggle to find a consistent food source and begin branching out into new areas.
The first is that you want to start early on in the winter. This is to give them a chance to get accustomed to a new feed and to give their stomach microorganisms the chance to adjust to any changes in their diets.
Continue to use your feeding method throughout the winter and don’t change it up. Remember, their digestion does not like immediate changes in diet.
Depending on how many deer that you have in your area, it is a good idea to spread out any food that you share at a number of different locations. When deer become aware of a reliable feeding source, they can begin to crowd and not all of them will get access to the food.
On the same hand, by spreading out your food source, you can prevent any aggression from taking place between the deer. You want to feed them, not make them fight each other for the food.
If you are using grains or pellets, make sure to keep it as dry as you can. If it gets wet during the winter, the deer likely won’t bother to touch it and you’ll be wasting time and money in the process.
On a similar note, make sure that there is a constant feed provided. After each snowfall, check to make sure that the feed is still accessible and hasn’t been totally covered by snow. Brush it off where necessary and keep a watchful eye.
Later on in the winter, you will need to increase the amount of feed that you have available. Late in the winter is typically when the need for food is the greatest and you should even begin to see an increase in deer activity in your yard.
When spring begins its approach and the snow isn’t as deep anymore – or if you notice a drop-off in the amount of deer that are showing up on your property – you can stop feeding the deer.
A lot of people don’t want to feed deer during the winter because it can be an expensive, difficult thing to do. It can also be because they don’t want the deer showing up on their property to leave their droppings and potentially damage any plant life that they may value.
But if done properly, deer can be peaceful, beautiful visitors throughout the winter months.
What If You Want to Keep Deer Away?
As outlined above, deer are herbivores. There are specific plants that appeal to their diet, providing them with the nutrients that they need to raise their fawn and survive the winter.
But what if you don’t want those deer in your yard? What can you do about it?
Well, if you have a garden, try to plant something that the deer do not like. You can even plant something poisonous to them around the things that they may like in an effort to dispel their future visits.
Even if you don’t have a garden and just don’t like the deer hanging around, planting a few of these common plants can be a great idea. You can get something that looks fresh and vibrant that has a natural ability to keep the deer away.
Plant Fragrant or Poisonous (to Deer) Plants
It should come as no surprise that deer will stay away from poisonous plants. This can be something such as foxgloves, poppies, or daffodils. All three can add a beautiful aesthetic to any yard while working to keep those pesky deer away.
Deer also don’t like plants that have strong, fragrant scents to them. You can try planting ornamental salvias, sages, or even lavender. Bearded irises and peonies also have a pungent scent to deer, so keep those in mind as well.
Another thing that you could plant is something that has naturally prickly leaves. You wouldn’t want to eat something prickly, would you? Well, neither do deer. Planting something that has a few prickers on it should be enough to keep the deer from grazing.
There are literally hundreds of different plants that you can implement into your garden space or backyard to keep the deer at bay.
Depending on how you view them, frequent visitation and feeding from deer can either be a welcome site or a worst nightmare. Now that you are more familiar with their natural diet, the things they like, and the things that they don’t, you can effectively draw them in or keep them away at your whim.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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