Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

Feeding Deer in Winter

(My February column in Maine Woodlands) Feeding deer in winter is tricky. We mean well but we can kill deer with kindness if we aren’t careful. Farmer’s Almanac said we’d have a lot of snow this winter, and they were right. We had more snow on the ground in December here in Talmadge than we had all last winter. Steve built a new food plot for the wildlife and the deer came. There were three bucks at various times, an older doe that’s usually without a fawn, a doe with twins and a doe with a singleton. Up the road a quarter-mile, neighbors had a doe with quadruplets eating under the apple tree most evenings. Most of the deer moved toward Grand Lake Stream to yard up together but a few stragglers have stayed behind.

The deer stopped eating the forage radish and turnip in the food plot in the last few days of December when a thick icy crust on top of 18″ of snow stopped them from pawing their way to the food. They occasionally walk through the plot and pass by the game cameras. They’re getting thin. Whitetails put on about 90 days’ worth of fat and their 90 days is running out. It’s hard to resist the urge to feed them. Deer will starve to death with a belly full of corn. You can’t change their diet, especially this late in winter without dire consequences.

feeding deer, deer eating cedarWhat you can do is drop a cedar tree for them. If the deer have eaten what they can reach you can bring the food down to them. We did this with good results in April of 2014. The deer returned from their winter yards to deep snow. Two cedar trees tided them over until the snow melted. The snowshoe hares also fed off the trees. The deer will most likely be fine without our help but if you want to give them a hand, keep the food natural.

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Feeding deer in winter is tricky. We mean well but we can kill deer with kindness if we aren't careful.

5 thoughts on “Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

  1. I had no idea and would never have guessed they could die despite eating something offered. It’s unlikely I will ever need this info, but I’m still glad to have it!

    1. Without the enzymes needed to digest what they’ve been fed, usually corn, their stomach fills. The food doesn’t pass and they starve to death with a full belly. Horrible thing to have happen. If they’re going to be fed it should be started by mid-fall so they can adjust.

      1. Goodness. I grew up in the country (in Virginia) but my dad was a transplanted city kid, and despite seeing more than my share of deer in my time (both alive and playful, and carved up for the freezer–my absolute favorite food) I never learned things like this. I’m amazed. And by this particular info, saddened. Again, glad to be learning from you.

  2. Hi Robin,
    Good writing and photos, as always. A caveat on the deer feeding, though: 2017 is the 40th year we’ve fed them corn here, and they’re thriving. The key is to feed them year-round, and daily. Same with birds: ours get black oil sunflower seed year-round (hey, it’s cheaper than beer and cigarettes!) even though it’s a pain bringing the feeders in every night to keep the bears from smashing them. All the critters provide lots of entertainment, and with no commercials.
    Deer get so used to the daily routine, all I have to do is bang on the bucket and they come running down off the mountain. They could easily be tamed like cows (some individuals are more prone to fearlessness than others) but we’ve never encouraged that.
    Anyway, keep up the good work! Spring’s comin’…
    Dave Harnish, from the “Endless Mountains” of Bradford County, PA
    John 14:6

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