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Feeding Deer  Also see food plots  
See the Latest News and Research Below
Supplemental feeding of wild deer can improve survival, but careless feeding can kill deer or create management problems. Deer are browsers and have adapted to eating a wide variety of food sources, but their efficient stomachs require time to adapt to a new food source.  For example, a hungry deer that has not eaten corn recently can die within a day if it comes across a large pile of corn that it devours [bloat and acidosis].  There are over 10,000 deer farms in the U.S. where deer are fed products such as Purina Antler Max Breeder with a protein content of about 16 percent.  Other similar pelletized products that can be used to feed deer are available for rabbits, goats, or horses with main ingredients of alfalfa hay, soybean meal, distillers dried grains, rice bran and corn with protein of at least 12 percent.

Corn is often used as a food supplement, but is low in protein and nutritional value and may result in acidosis, so should be used sparingly as an energy supplement such as for does trying to feed new fawns.  Use of less than 25 percent corn is recommended.  C.O.B. (corn, oats, and barley) is readily available and has protein of about 8 percent, but high in corn content so must be introduced slowly.  Goat chow usually has properties similar to deer chow, about 16 percent protein, alfalfa is a primary ingredient.  Second cut or later alfalfa is commonly used, but deer may also need time to adapt to this food source.  Oats are a preferred supplement.  Deer enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables such as apples, grapes, small plums, cherries, pears, pumpkin, carrots, snap peas.  As with people, individual tastes vary.  Acorns and other mast are an important food source.

The Michigan DNR permitted supplemental feeding during the severe winter of 2013-14 and provided these guidelines: "Feed can consist only of grains, second cut alfalfa and clover, and pelletized food materials containing no animal protein. The feed must be scattered on the ground at a depth not to exceed three inches. If individuals choose to feed corn, the DNR recommends it be mixed as a minor component (25 percent or less ) of the recipe, which should help protect deer from dying by acidosis..."   For the supplemental feeding of 2017 the DNR added this advice " Although deer make use of apples, potatoes, sugar beets, carrots, and many other foods during summer and fall, these provide little benefit for deer during winter conditions..."   The Wisconsin DNR advises that for winter feeding, if formulated deer products are not available then "rabbit, goat or horse pellets which contain at least 12% protein can be used... do not feed corn ... After the formulated deer food mixtures, oats are preferred over all other supplemental foods... do not feed [alfalfa] hay when deer have encountered low food sources. "  Cutting twigs and branches down so deer can reach them is effective in winter. 

Feeding deer, as in baiting by hunters, may increase the transmission of disease.   The Mississippi DWFP recommends using an above ground covered feeder or stationary spin cast feeder.  Feeding deer is illegal in some jurisdictions.  Michigan issues deer feeding permits.  Deer have been routinely fed over thousands of years.  Ancient peoples managed them and their habitat as an important natural resource.  Planting food plots is a safe and legal way to support local deer populations.  Good trees include pears, crab apples, persimmons, aspen, chestnuts, white oaks and red oaks.
News

Efforts underway to assist elk and deer until springtime March 25, 2017 British Columbai, The Free Press
... the province was investing $40,000 to mitigate the drastic impacts of one of the region’s harshest winters ...  to purchase hay to feed elk and deer in strategic locations around the East Kootenay... many ungulate populations are in long-term decline...

... he has also spread small amounts of (alfalfa) hay at many sites rather than dumping a single large pile... thinks as much as 80 percent of the animals in some areas would have died without the handouts ... The campaign has raised about $14,500 through a GoFundMe account ...

Winter feeding in motion on Tex Creek WMA February 27, 2017 Idaho, Idaho Fish and Game
... an estimated 4,000 elk and 2,500 deer migrate to winter range on the Tex Creek WMA ... But with the grasses, forbs and brush burned off this year ... They would find food just 13 miles away in farm fields, haystacks ...

Fire burned 22,000 acres of winter range on the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area in eastern Idaho in 2016. To support elk and deer, and prevent private property damage, Idaho Fish and Game set in motion the largest winter feeding operation in Idaho’s history.


... elk have digestive systems that can more easily adapt to a change to pellet food, deer have a harder time. Their four-part stomachs hold microbes necessary to digest food, and those microbes adapt throughout the year to the deer’s changing diet. It takes several weeks for things to adjust, and deer can die of starvation even if their stomachs are full with undigested pellets or hay...

Focus on feeding February 10, 2017 Oregon, Baker City Herald
... leading a campaign to feed about 1,000 elk and more than 1,000 deer in snowbound eastern Baker County ...  raised about $14,500 through a GoFundMe account over the past 21 days ... as much as 80 percent of the animals in some areas would have died ...

Garden Valley plays hosts to deer and elk and both species gather at winter feeding sites. - February 9, 2017 Idaho


Aerial shots of deer and elk gathered around winter feeding sites near Dingle and Bancroft. - February 9, 2017 Idaho


Dire winter spurs talk about feeding wildlife February 7, 2017 Wyoming, Jackson Hole News&Guide
... A herd that started off winter in the West Bank neighborhood numbering 53 animals has dwindled to 20 or 30 elk ... Wyoming hasn’t fed deer on an emergency basis since the 1970s ... "I have deer literally sleeping up against my house..." [an online discussion about emergency feeding from Game and Fish] ... 

More deer expected to survive winter February 7, 2017 Michigan, Escanaba Daily Press
...People living in eligible areas who wish to help boost deer survival rates are currently able to apply for supplemental deer feeding permits ... “It increases survival by providing feed through winter,” Sexton said. The DNR authorized the ­issuing of feeding permits in the southern U.P ...

Idaho spending $650,000 to feed elk, deer and antelope February 1, 2017 Idaho, 6 On Your Side
... feeding about 10,000 elk, 10,000 deer and 100 antelopes ... at 110 sites around the southern half of the state ...

Officials say the emergency feeding is intended to reduce damage to private crops, keep animals from roads and provide nutrition.


Winter out West has been brutal for wild animals January 31, 2016 Oregon, Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
... Without human intervention, elk, deer and other grazing animals face high mortality rates in the West this winter. This Oregon elk savors a mouthful of alfafa brought to its herd by wildlife officers. Keith Kohl/ Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Will Harsh Conditions Devastate Colorado Deer and Elk? January 26, 2017 Outdoor Life Magazine
... The last full-blown winter feeding operation conducted in the Gunnison Basin happened during the winter of 2007-2008 when a sustained period of extreme cold, combined with more than 100 inches in snow, resulted in the loss of more than 30 percent of the fawns and female mule deer. That feeding operation cost the state approximately $2.8 million...

... Snow and cold temperatures are threatening wildlife this winter ... the DWR sent truckloads of deer pellets into the Cache Valley and three other counties in northern Utah...

F&G begins elk, deer feeding in south county January 25, 2017 Idaho, Idaho Mountain Express and Guide
... the department has been working with private landowners to plow out areas where it can spread the feed—hay for elk and pellets for deer. He said the feeding areas have to be reasonably accessible, but far enough away from fenced areas so the wild animals don’t interfere with domestic ones...

Fish and Game begins emergency feeding in Bellevue Triangle January 21, 2017 Idaho, Twin Falls Times-News
... The department this week set up emergency feeding grounds at Cove Ranch southeast of Bellevue, where 200 elk and 150 mule deer were raiding haystacks and creating a traffic hazard ... “We are trying to pull them away from (livestock) feed lines and busy roadways to keep drivers safe ...

.. moving ahead with an emergency operation to bait deer with food to try to draw them away from a highway – a project reflecting worries about deer survival after heavy snowfall and a spike in vehicles hitting deer along the highway that cuts through critical habitat...

Winter feeding needs to start before it's too late January 18, 2017 Idaho, Idaho State Journal
...  a proposal to add money to hunting licenses to establish a dedicated fund for big game winter feeding...  (HB596) passed but unfortunately was amended to include verbage for monies for depredation, along with other things... there is no incentive for the F&G to spend any sizable amounts of money out of the account for feeding starving animals, which was the true intent of the legislation...

Supplemental deer feeding permits available in southern UP January 17, 2017 Michigan, UPMatters.com
... Easily digestible food sources most beneficial for feeding deer include grains, second-cut alfalfa, clover, and pelletized deer food. Although deer make use of apples, potatoes, sugar beets, carrots, and many other foods during summer and fall, these provide little benefit for deer during winter conditions and are not legal for supplemental feeding under permits...

Man spends thousands feeding deer in retirement January 17, 2017 Maine, wwlp.com
...  A retired man in Maine who used to hunt and eat deer is now spending thousands of dollars to feed them instead... spends $4,500 a year buying oats ...

Update On Washington Winter Range Conditions For Deer, Elk January 16, 2017 nwsportsmanmag.com
... In late December, WDFW reported over 1150 elk at the Cowiche and more than 700 elk at feeding stations in western Yakima Counties ...

Emergency deer feeding begins in Bear Lake Valley January 13, 2017 Utah, KSL.com
... “These deer are exhausted, confused and without options,”  ... “This specially formulated pellet gives deer the correct balance of energy and protein the animals need,” ...

Manitoulin, Winter conditions having minimal impacts on Island deer thus far January 13, 2017 Ontario, manitoulin.ca
... For now people can help out the deer by breaking trails from one food source to another ...  If we have 90 days of 20 or more inches of snow on the ground that is when you see deer losses ... In terms of breaking browse for deer ...  this isn’t needed at this point... [breaking tree and shrub branches down to where deer can eat them is an effective way to provide a quick winter supplemental food source]

Wildlife Feeding Concerns January 9, 2017 North Dakota, NDGF
... Providing feed such as corn, which is high in sugar and starch, can lead to acidosis, rumentis and ultimately death.  ... “One alternative to feeding wildlife is for individuals, landowners or wildlife clubs to plow open areas of harvested grain or row crop fields to allow animals to gain access to waste grains ...These areas are also the first areas to melt off when we get a break in the weather.” ...

IDFG ready to feed big game if needed January 5, 2017 Idaho, Newsbf.com
... “We are watching snow conditions closely and our regional wildlife program staff are in close communication with their regional citizen winter feeding advisory committees to assess where and when it is appropriate to initiate feeding operations,” said Jon Rachael, state wildlife game manager...

Post-hunting season management can help deer herds January 2, 2016 Texas, Phys.Org
... landowners with deer feeders on their properties should keep them running to provide supplemental feeding after deer season closes up to April 1 or until deer use stops. "Corn is a good supplemental energy source for the deer leading up to spring green-up," ... [deer are introduced to corn in the fall before other food sources are depleted]

Feeding deer corn in the winter December 24, 2016 Maryland, Carroll County Times
... studies have shown that it takes two to four weeks of feeding on a new food source for deer to establish the microorganisms necessary to obtain nutrients from that food. The time and energy it takes to convert to new microorganisms uses precious fat reserves that could have been spared if the deer had fed continually on natural winter browse...


... Rescue effort underway to provide emergency feeding sites for the helpless animal ... The last winter in Altai with similar heavy snow falls was in 2001-2002, when the number of roe deer was reduced from 27,000 to 17,000...

What's happening to our deer with this drought? November 15, 2016 Alabama, Buckmasters Online
... “I’ve been talking to some old-timers, and they don’t ever remember it being this dry,” ... those hunters and landowners who are especially concerned about the deer herd’s health can take advantage of supplemental feeding ...

Deer season could be active October 30, 2016 Texas, Victoria Advocate
... Central Texas is home to a bounty of wild deer, and it’s also got a growing number of game ranches, where deer are raised similar to cattle – in herds with strict diets that promote maximum body and antler growth. These high-fence ranches provide hunters with opportunities to hunt trophy bucks without having to travel far from home...

...  wildfire that burned about 75 percent of the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area ... The fire burned most of the crucial range for about 3,500 elk, 5,000 mule deer and 100 moose ... Fish and Game is also prepared to start emergency winter feeding following the hunting seasons ...



Risk of Inappropriate Feeding 
  Fish and Game on Deer Feeding April 25, 2015 New Hampshire, SeaCoastOnine, Glenn Normandeau, Executive Director, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department
... these deer died from eating food they were not prepared to digest at this time of year, a condition known as enterotoxemia ... most likely the corn ... They [the families who feed the deer] just didn't know any better ... It will not happen when deer are fed from late fall, as their digestive system will remain conditioned to handle the feed... 

Feeding winter wildlife can have deadly consequences February 2, 2014 Pennsylvania, Altoona Mirror
... Test results revealed the trophy 6-by-7- point bull died of rumen acidosis, a condition caused by the sudden introduction of carbohydrates into the animal's system... Game Commission sources aren't sure how the bull elk ingested the corn that killed it, but it is probable the grain was put out by a person or persons as supplemental winter food ...

South-county wildlife feeding is going well February 15, 2017 Idaho, Idaho Mountain Express
... feeding of deer and elk at 17 sites in southern Blaine County ... some deer have been dying by eating alfalfa hay at elk-feeding sites. “Their stomachs are stuffed with alfalfa—they just can’t digest it,” ... [need time to adjust to this new food source so not good when deer have had little and different food as in winter]

Research

 "A review of the population dynamics of mule deer and black‐tailed deer Odocoileus hemionus in North America." Forrester, Tavis D., and Heiko U. Wittmer, Mammal Review 43.4 (2013): 292-308.
... "Supplemental feeding during winter over large areas resulted in decreased mortality due to all causes, including predation, even though there was no evidence that predators were preying on mule deer in poor conditions in control areas" p. 302

Effect of Enhanced Nutrition on Mule Deer Population Rate of Change. Wildlife Monographs, 2009.  Chad J. Bishop, Gary C. White, David J. Freddy, Bruce E. Watkins, Thomas R. Stephenson
... We measured annual survival and fecundity of adult females and survival of fawns, then estimated population rate of change as a function of enhanced nutrition. Pregnancy and fetal rates of adult females were high and did not vary in response to treatment. Fetal and neonatal survival rates increased in response to treatment, although the treatment effect on neonatal survival was marginal. Overwinter rates of fawn survival increased for treatment deer by 0.16–0.31 depending on year and fawn sex, and none of the 95% confidence intervals associated with the effects overlapped zero....


Deer: to feed, or not to feed December 17, 2012 Utah Division of Wildlife, Darren DeBloois
... there are times when we feel that feeding deer during the winter is needed. I am guided in this decision by the Division’s wildlife feeding policy, which boils down to this: we (DWR officials) will feed deer during unusually severe winter conditions. We step in when feeding can provide increased survival rates of females ensuring that the breeding segment of the population will not be decimated. Taking action by saving these animals increases the likelihood that the population will recover quicker from a severe weather event.

Habitat management influences overwinter survival of mule deer fawns in Colorado EJ Bergman, CJ Bishop, DJ Freddy, GC White… - … of Wildlife Management, 2014
... many pinyon pine (Pinus edulis)–Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) woodland habitats reach late seral stages that encroach into forest openings. This encroachment typically occurs at the expense of browse species that are preferred by mule deer ... documented changes in deer vital rates in response to habitat manipulations are lacking. ... . Our study provides evidence that habitat management on winter ranges can positively influence a key vital rate for mule deer in pinyon pine–Utah juniper ecosystems ...

Enhancing White-tailed Deer Habitats on Your Property: Food Plots [PDF]
RA Pierce, EB Flinn, B Mormann, P Lowry - 2013
... Deer are selective browsers; therefore, a variety of foods make up their diet, including broad-leaved herbaceous plants (forbs), woody plants, grasses, mast (acorns, fruits and
berries) and mushrooms. No one food dominates a deer’s diet throughout the year because deer select foods based on plant availability, palatability and nutritional content, all of which vary throughout the year. The nutritional needs of deer also vary throughout the year. During the spring and summer, pregnant and lactating does and antler-growing bucks need more protein in their diets. During the fall and winter, deer have greater energy demands and therefore need more carbohydrates. Food plots can be planted to provide supplemental nutrition ...

Researchers tell what works well in Louisiana deer food plots September 18, 2013 NOLA.com
... "Management of native browse species is many times overlooked when hunters and sportsmen want to improve habitat conditions ... Fertilizing Japanese honeysuckle, blackberry and dewberry and other forbs and vines normally found in open timber stands will greatly enhance the food and cover that Louisiana upland wildlife depend on... Where manipulation of the native habitat is possible, establishing long, narrow food strips in a wagon-wheel fashion can be of maximum benefit ...

... While native forage can provide an important supply of resources, nutritional availability may also be enhanced through food plots and supplemental feed. However, nutritional demands of deer, and forage quality and abundance fluctuate throughout the year. Therefore, we conducted a cost-benefit analysis to determine how to cost-effectively maximize food production during nutritional stress periods for deer. Native forage and food plots cost-effectively maximized food production during June and July, but supplemental feed became increasingly important during September ...

Songbird Use of White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Food Plots in Appalachian Hardwood Forests  WE Ricks, RJ Cooper, WD Gulsby, KV Miller - Southeastern Naturalist, 2016
... Food plots are commonly planted for Odocoileus virginianus (White-tailed Deer) in the eastern US, because they are known to benefit this species. We hypothesized that food plots may also provide early-successional habitat for nongame species, such as songbirds ... both species richness and abundance were greater along plot edges during breeding season on southern sites. Species richness was also greater along plot edges for a subset of southern sites sampled during winter. ...

... The supplementary fed population had a higher population growth rate, the females were more likely to reproduce and their calves were heavier than in the control population. Female body mass was negatively related to timing of vegetation green-up in both herds. Since both populations increased in the last decade we found support to our prediction that density-dependence negatively affected our study herds. Indeed, density negatively affected growth rates, female body mass, reproductive success and calf body mass in both populations and, as expected, this effect was more marked in the control herd.

Aggressive behavior of white‐tailed deer at concentrated food sites as affected by population density August, 2013 RN Donohue, DG Hewitt, TE Fulbright, CA Deyoung… - The Journal of Wildlife Management
... Concentrated food sources are used frequently in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) management and research, but because such food sources are easily defended, aggressive interactions among deer may influence their effectiveness... [Conclusion: spread out the food a little so the does and fawns can get something].

The Role of Vegetation and Supplemental Feed in Deer Management
[PowerPoint slides] David G. Hewitt. Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, March, 2012 



More on Feeding Deer

Deer Habitat Management:  Getting Started January 22, 2013 New York Corning Leader 
... In numerous cases the process of improving a particular woodlot cannot start with a commercial cut, so the first phase of work is Timber Stand Improvement.  The genetically best species that are preferred by deer and other wildlife will be left for seed production.  The Timber Stand Improvement process before a future commercial cut can be conducted should focus on removing; autumn olive, multiflora rose, buckthorn, barberry, prickly ash, hayscented fern, New York fern,  hopehornbeam, ironwood, beech and aspen...

Hinge cutting trees for deer habitat: pulling trees down for bedding - June, 2013


Timber cuts a magnet for deer October 21, 2013 Virginia, Northern Virginia Daily 
... If you've ever thought of having some timber cut on your hunting property, you probably worried whether it would drive out the deer.... timber cutting offered new sources of both food and cover to the whitetails... Even cuts a year or two old are good...

Deer-feeding family has following April 1, 2013 Maine, Press Herald
... Harriet, 80, and Basil, 81, have been feeding deer for more than 50 years ... Her parents began to feed the deer regularly in the 1940s, and when she and Basil moved back into the family home, they took over the feeding... Harriet said the deer leave behind droppings and tear up the yard with their tracks, "but we'll be one of the first people in town to have a green lawn." ...

Options in deer feeding December 30, 2013 Texas, Killeen Daily Herald (blog)
... While corn remains the most popular whitetail deer feed, protein-supplemented pellets and soybeans are also popularly used with various feeding systems.  The planting of a strategically-placed food plot (usually .5-3 acres in size) is also a popular means of feeding and nourishing a deer population.  Small grains, such as oats, wheat and rye grass are most commonly used ...

Feeding Deer, New Mexico - March 27, 2013


Cwiklinski offers advice on feeding deer May 26, 2013 New York, Evening Observer
... Deer really like crab apples, so try to thin out the limbs to afford more sunlight to increase the fruit yield. In a maple forest, consider cutting saplings to a height of four feet to create "bushes of browse" for the deer ... 


Feeding deer a growing tradition at Jefferson Barracks cemetery February 1, 204 Missouri, St. Louis Post-Dispatch 
... Most people love seeing the deer, said Jeff Barnes, cemetery director.  Feeding the deer is “such a tradition here,” he said. No rules forbid it and that’s not expected to change ... Scores of deer wander among rows of white gravestones ...

DNR to allow deer feeding February 12, 2014 Minnesota, Minneapolis Star Tribune
... In a turnabout some call “shocking,'' the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will begin emergency deer feeding in northern Minnesota ... The effort is expected to cost about $170,000, and will be the first time the DNR has fed deer since the winter of 1996-1997 ... the DNR wants to act “in good faith,’’ Telander said, with an emergency deer feeding account whitetail hunters have paid into for about 15 years with 50-cent license surcharges...

Don't Use a Bucket With Handles
...   government officials and the woman who feeds the animal are trying to catch the animal to save it... she feels bad and will cut handles off her buckets from now on ...

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