Many people feed deer in winter. Whether winter feeding improves deer nutrition and survival depends on which types and amounts of supplemental feed are used, as well as where and how deer are fed.
If you choose to feed deer in winter, start feeding them early, introduce foods gradually, don’t change feeds abruptly, and stick with the program until spring green-up.
White-tailed deer are selective feeders. They normally pick only the most nutrient-packed, easily digestable plant parts available and cannot efficiently digest grass hay. When forced to do so, they will die. Avoid feeding hay to whitetails during winter. It may be lethal to them.
During winter, deer need a lot of calories to keep warm and also need protein to keep their bodies functioning. Winter diets also need a certain amount of indigestible fiber to aid digestion.
As with all animals, deer need a daily supply of vitamins, minerals and water to maintain health. When providing supplemental deer foods, it is best to offer foods that will meet all or most of their daily nutritional needs.
Many people put out vegetable trimmings discarded by supermarkets. Comprising of celery, cabbage, lettuce trimmings, old fruit, or other waste, these foods are deer killers if deer have to rely solely on them for their survival. People lose weight by eating salads, and so do deer.
Veggie trimmings are high in water content and low in carbs and protein. Please, leave them in the supermarket dumpster. Waste apples and potatoes are palatable to deer and contain ample calories, but are not a healthy stand-alone diet. Fruits and spuds are high in water and too low in protein and fiber for wintering deer. If deer cannot access high quality natural forages around your feeder, they will not thrive.
As a winter supplement, cracked corn, oats, or barley are an improvement over veggies and fruit, but single diets of grains are not optimal. They may contain adequate amounts of carbs and most proteins, but lack fiber and some minerals. Deer will readily eat sunflower seeds, but do not be tempted to put out large amounts for deer. Besides the expense to you, sunflower hulls are lethal for deer when ingested in quantity. There is a chemical compound in the hull that kills the microbes in a deer’s paunch, leading to the deer’s demise.
So what’s left? Major agricultural feed stores in Maine market nutritionally balanced feeds formulated especially for deer. These feeds contain the right amount of calories, protein, minerals, and fiber to serve as a sole diet for white-tailed deer during winter. They can be purchased in bulk, or by the bag. As a stand-alone diet, deer need about 2 to 3 pounds of this feed per day.
If you make the commitment to feed deer, feed them twice daily. Put out all the deer can eat — and then some. Remember, you may start out feeding two or three deer initially, but others usually arrive as time goes on. Increase their feed as needed to ensure that all deer are getting enough.
Deer are very competitive around feeding areas, with dominant or stronger deer pushing aside smaller deer. Again, put out enough feed for all to get their fill. Spread it out in many small piles to minimize fighting and try to keep feeds dry.
Deer fed by people spend only an hour or two each day eating. If you feed deer, expect your prized shrubbery and trees to be heavily damaged by browsing. Your neighbors may also experience severe plant damage as well.
Deer collisions with motor vehicles are all too common near deer feeding sites. Where possible, locate deer feeding sites at least a quarter mile from roads, preferably in habitat that deer naturally use during winter.
Free-ranging dogs can be a problem at feeding sites near residential areas. Almost any breed of dog will chase deer, often with fatal results for the deer. Please, keep dogs controlled as is required by Maine law. Coyotes can also be a problem in deer-feeding areas.
For more information on deer-feeding issues, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has produced a brochure on the subject at mefishwildlife.com or by calling 287-8000. In addition, DIF&W and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine are co-producing a DVD all about winter feeding of deer.
Agway and Nutrena sites participate in deer-feeding educational program
These Maine-based businesses carry nutritional deer feed and participate in the deer-feeding educational program sponsored by the Maine Deer Management Network:
• Andy’s Agway, Dayton
• Bob’s Home & Garden, Dover-Foxcroft
• Brooks Feed and Farm, Brunswick
• Campbell’s Agway True Value, Farmingdale, Skowhegan, and Winslow
• Enterprise Farms Inc., Richmond
• Down East Coal & Stove, Gouldsboro
• Foxcroft Agway, Dover-Foxcroft
• Hayloft Farm Supply, South Berwick
• Lucerne Farms/Feed Depot, Fort Fairfield
• Lyman’s Farmstore, Fairfield
• Mac’s True Value, Unity
• Maine Potato Growers Inc., Presque Isle
• Union Agway, Union
• Wentworth Family Grocery, Brooks and Brunswick