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Do Deer Eat Carrots? (And How to Attract or Deter Them)

Do Deer Eat Carrots? (And How to Attract or Deter Them)

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Some people may be interested in what deer like to eat for the purpose of hunting. Yet, many others are actually concerned about how these beautiful creatures can survive harsh winters.

Therefore, you may come across the debate about feeding deer once in a while. Sadly, some deer herds could potentially die off due to starvation without proper food sources.

Today’s article discusses whether deer eat carrots. It also goes over the topic of how to attract these lovely animals or deter them altogether.

So, whether you’re on the side of those looking to feed deer throughout the cooler months of the year or not, keep reading. You’ll definitely learn something new.

Do Deer Eat Carrots?

Technically speaking, yes. Whether wild or garden-grown, deer can eat carrots (I’m not discussing the canned or processed types here).

In fact, they can eat many types of fruits and vegetables given to them, such as cabbage, apples, berries, etc. However, such food isn’t recommended as proper feeding for deer.

Principally, these fruits and vegetables don’t have any real nutritional value for them compared to their natural diet. Of course, the deer love the taste, but it’s not part of a balanced diet for them.

That said, it might not be the worst action to give deer carrots (or other fruits and vegetables) as a one-off if you see them passing through the area.

Nonetheless, this shouldn’t be a regular activity if you want to keep them healthy, strong, and able to produce healthy fawns in the coming months. So, moderation is key.

That leaves the question: what should you feed deer?

What To Feed Deer

Now that you know that carrots aren’t the most suitable option, it’s time to learn about the alternatives. Here are a few of the foods you can give deer now and then.

1. Natural Food

The best possible food source for deer is natural food. By natural food, I mean their natural winter diet, which is generally pine needles from balsam fir and hardwood twigs.

To help them along, you can cut down certain types of hardwood trees. In general, deer prefer species of red, sugar, mountain, and striped maple. They also like white and yellow birch, beaked and witch hazel, and even red oak.

The reason behind such a specific diet is that deer are dependent on a certain variety of microorganisms and bacteria. These organisms make it easy for their stomach to break down the food 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.

When they experience a shift in diet, deer deal with scours (diarrhea) and acidosis (the buildup of excess acid in the stomach). That’s especially true when given certain types of cereal grains.

So, if you plan on introducing an artificial feeding area where they have access to natural food, try to do so gradually. This way, you give them a chance to adapt and don’t totally disrupt their diet

2. Deer Pellets

As an alternative to hardwood twigs, you can also feed deer pellets to them. Depending on where you get them, there are types specially formulated for the deer.

This means they’re suitable for their fiber, protein, and energy requirements. Plus, they’re also crafted with an eye toward the unique digestion of the deer as well.

Initially, the deer might not recognize the pellets as food. Yet, if you introduce them to some oats, corn, or alfalfa, they should become acclimated to this type quickly.

3. Cereal Grains

Cereal grains are another commonly fed deer food as well. There’s debate about this option because it may not 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.

That said, you may want to steer clear from feeding the deer pure wheat, barley, or corn. All of these are too high in starch and cause severe digestive problems that could even lead to death.

4. Alfalfa or Hay

Lastly, there’s the option of alfalfa or hay.

You just need to take caution whenever you feed deer one of these foods, especially if they look starved. There’s a chance they could suffer from major digestive problems after consuming such varieties.

Thus, you should make sure to feed it to them gradually and, if possible, ensure they also have access to the natural foods listed above.

Recommendations for Feeding Deer

Petting A Deer

A lot of people don’t want to feed deer during the winter because it can be an expensive and difficult thing to do.

It can also be because they don’t want the deer showing up on their property, leaving their droppings, and potentially damaging their beloved plants.

Yet, if done the right way, deer visitations through winter can be peaceful and enjoyable.

As you can see, appealing to deer’s digestive tract is a major concern when introducing food. They’re not like other animals who can eat almost anything with no issue.

If their digestive system is out of whack, it can be quite serious and even lead to death.

That said, there are definitely some tips that you may want to follow for feeding the deer.

That’s especially true throughout the winter when they might struggle to find a consistent food source and begin branching out into new areas. Take a look at some recommendations.

  • Start early on in the winter to give deer 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 with the same feeding method throughout the winter, and don’t change it. Remember, their digestion doesn’t like immediate changes in diet.
  • Depending on how many deer you have in your area, it’s a good idea to spread out any food you share at a few 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.
  • By spreading out your food source, you can prevent any aggression from taking place between the deer. After all, you want them to eat, not fight each other over food.
  • If you are using grains or pellets, make sure to keep them as dry as you can. If they get wet, the deer won’t bother to touch them, and you’ll be wasting time and money in the process.
  • Make sure that there’s a constant feed provided. After each snowfall, check to make sure the feed is still accessible and hasn’t been concealed by snow. Brush it off where necessary and keep a watchful eye.
  • Later on, in the winter, you’ll need to increase the amount of feed you have available. This time is typically when the need for food is the greatest, and you should begin to see an increase in deer activity in your yard.
  • When spring starts approaching, and the snow isn’t as deep anymore – or if you notice a drop-off in the amount of deer showing up on your property – you can stop providing food.

What Is the Problem With Feeding Deer?

So, why are some people against giving food to deer since they could starve in winter?

While you may think it’s inhumane, feeding deer can have many unfavored consequences.

To get the full picture, take a look at a few of the most common issues resulting from feeding deer.

  • Giving food to deer helps them get through the winter and stay strong enough to give birth to more fawns. As a result, their population may exceed the carrying capacity of their natural habitat.
  • More deer numbers can become dependent on the food people in the area provide.
  • As the number of deer increases, they continue to consume the natural foods in the area, leading to fewer resources the following year.
  • The increased number of deer can lead to potential property damage as they start browsing through ornamental trees and shrubs.
  • Moving to and from the feeding area, those deer may pose a serious hazard to local traffic.

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 they need to raise their fawn and survive the winter.

However, what if you don’t want those deer in your yard? What can you do about it?

Primarily, if you have a garden, try to plant something that the deer don’t like. You can even plant varieties that are poisonous to them around the things 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 besides having a natural ability to keep the deer away.

There are hundreds of different plants to implement into your garden space or backyard for this purpose. Here are a few ideas.

1. Poisonous (to Deer) Plants

It’s no surprise that deer will stay away from poisonous plants. This can be something like foxgloves, poppies, or daffodils. All three can add a beautiful aesthetic to any yard while working to keep those pesky deer away.

2. Fragrant Plants

In addition to poisonous plants, deer don’t like plants that emit strong and fragrant scents. This includes ornamental salvias, sages, and even lavender.

Bearded irises and peonies also have a pungent scent to deer. So, you might want to keep those in mind as well.

3. Prickly Plants

Another thing you could plant is something that has naturally prickly leaves. Doing so should be enough to keep the deer from grazing. You wouldn’t want to eat something prickly, would you? Well, neither do deer.

Final Thoughts

Deer are gorgeous creatures that may find difficulties in surviving the cold months. That makes many compassionate people wonder what they can and can’t eat.

If given the chance (and when hungry), deer will eat carrots, apples, and just about anything you give them. The question is: are they good for them?

Principally, these types of food don’t have the nutritional value deer need. So, if you want to provide a suitable source for them, opt for hardwood twigs, cereal grains, deer pellets, etc.

Depending on how you view them, frequent visitation and feeding from deer can be a welcome site or the worst nightmare.

Now that you are more familiar with their natural diet, what they like, and what they don’t, you can effectively draw them in or keep them away at your whim.


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Britt McMurray

Thursday 15th of September 2022

Thanks for the great article! I was wondering if you have a link to great deer pellets ?

Best, Britt


Tuesday 27th of July 2021

Dear Ben,

Thanks for the post and informative guide. We have deer on our property and since living here recently curious to find out what they like. The pellets they seem to love best and given time even eat out of your hand. Taking some serious non motion poses. Further on they seem to be real vacuum cleaners if it comes to whatever you throw. Good to know not all is best. But gracious animals for sure.