DON’T FEED DEER CORN IN WINTER
I know a lot of folks feel sorry for deer in the winter, especially when it looks like there’s not much for them to eat. I also know that some people, having seen deer eating gleanings out of fields, think it’s helpful to leave some corn out for the deer. As a nutritionist, I beg you, DON’T.
Deer are ruminants, which means digestion relies on microbes in their gut to help break down forages. These microbes undergo seasonal changes, and in winter, fiber-digesters are the dominant type. If deer suddenly eat a large amount of starch-rich food, like corn, what few starch-digesting microbes are in the gut quickly get overwhelmed, and acidosis develops. This can lead to a quick, painful death. What started out as kindness becomes cruelty.
Deer take 2-4 weeks to adapt their guts to changes in diet. In the wild, this happens as the seasons change, and the deer are fine. But if you overwhelm their gut with energy-rich food in a time of the year when they’re living a lot off of high-fiber food and their own fat reserves, it can lead to sickness and often to death.
Even if it doesn’t kill them, congratulations, your yard is now a place where they expect food. You may have deer fighting for access to the food, or spreading disease. And things that eat deer now know they can find food near your house. This can be dangerous to people who let their pets outside - coyotes may view small pets as a snack, as can feral dogs. Not to mention the last thing you want is those same predators getting used to people. Increased deer in residential neighborhoods also increases the risk of deer-car collisions.
In the winter, deer are usually living off of the fat reserves they built all year. Unless it is unusually cold and the county is putting out food, best not to. Deer can handle themselves.