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Ask the Master – Feeding Deer

  1. I guess a lot of people don’t like the deer, but is there something I can plant that will keep them fed during the winter months when food is so scarce? I love to watch them but I know putting out food like deer corn is frowned upon. 

Sadly, feeding deer in the winter may actually cause them a miserable death by indigestion!  Their systems are set up to efficiently digest their natural food supply throughout winter which they find as they move from location to location.  However, a large amount of different food, to which they are not accustomed, may cause an upset to their metabolism which could cause them to starve in late winter.  

Deer go into winter well-layered with enough fat supplies to get through to bud break in the spring when the lower branches of trees and shrubs begin to swell with nutrients.  If they are encouraged to remain in one area by human feeding, they will also have cleaned out the area of the small twigs they need to survive in late winter.

Diseased, injured and weak deer will naturally die in the winter, as is normal in nature, leaving stronger deer to survive and raise their young.  This is absolutely necessary for a healthy deer herd.

To help the healthier survivors through a severe late winter cold spell or very deep snow, cut twigs daily and spread them in many locations well away from your home.  Luring them into concentrated groups near homes can cause heavy disease and predator problems, including the consumption of your landscape plants which are not part of their natural diet.  You may also plant early budding shrubs such as shrubby Dogwood or wild plum, but again in scattered areas well away from roads, businesses, homes and high predator areas.  

Do not give them human foods, chemically treated scraps, hay, bread or grain products such as corn that they are unused to eating.  An occasional organic apple won’t hurt because it’s a regular part of their diet but larger amounts may cause the death you want to prevent.  

Feeding the deer near homes may feel like benevolence, but its only a form of slow death and disease. If you really want to help, then call your local Game Commissioner for information on how to help the deer go into winter in far better condition for survival.

If you have a question to which you would like a posted answer, then please send that question to JeffersonMG@psu.edu and you may find it in the very next article!

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