In summer, deer graze on grasses, leaves, flowers and other vegetation. In fall, their diets expand to include acorns, fallen fruits and seeds. With the onset of winter comes a change in food sources — this time, instead of plants, deer consume hay or silage made from grains like alfalfa, clover and timothy.
The reason why is simple: They need the calories that these foods provide. And because frugivory is an expensive activity, the deer have to find ways to get them. During the warmer months, deer may travel as much as 25 miles (40 kilometers) per day just searching for food. When temperatures drop below freezing, however, they’re stuck at home, eating whatever happens to be within reach.
While some people might think that providing hay or grain to keep deer fed during cold weather would only make things worse, there’s no evidence to support this theory. If anything, experts say that feeding hay during winter could actually improve their health and survival rate.
Hay has long been considered one of the best natural supplements that can boost the immune system and overall health of mammals. It contains plenty of vitamins and minerals essential for good digestion and metabolism. Hay also helps regulate body temperature, prevents muscle spasms and reduces stress levels.
The problem with hay is that animals tend to eat too much of it, leading to overeating and obesity. This becomes even more dangerous in deer, who, if not properly cared for, can grow so large that they become easy prey for predators. To avoid such scenarios, deer owners should supplement hay with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.
Read on to learn about how to choose the right kind of feed for deer during winter.
Related: How to Attract Deer Fast
Inexpensive way to feed deer in winter
One of the simplest ways to keep deer fed during the colder part of the year is to give them access to cheap, abundant foods that don’t require much preparation. These include dry cat litter, oat hulls, cracked wheat, soybean meal, ground corn, dried egg products and chopped green bean stalks. Most of these items can be found easily at any grocery store, but they’re usually priced higher than commercial feeds. You could save money by combining different types of the aforementioned foods into a mixture that you’ll feed to your deer.
On top of being inexpensive, most of these foods are nutritious. Oatmeal is rich in fiber, and dried egg products contain vitamin B12 and E. Cat litter is high in calcium while soybeans are packed with protein, iron and zinc. Wheat bran provides lots of energy, and cracked wheat is loaded with antioxidants.
If you want to go further, consider adding nutritional supplements to your deer’s ration. A multivitamin formulated specifically for deer will supply all the nutrients needed to keep their bodies healthy and strong. Other options include kelp meal, brewer’s rice, barley and molasses.
You can buy hay and grain commercially, but if you own a farm, you can produce your own hay using hay bales. Simply stack bales together and let them sit outside until the moisture evaporates. Then you can cut up the hay and use it as bedding material or to create a type of mulch.
To see how often deer eat in winter, read on.
It’s important to remember that deer aren’t true grazers. Their digestive tracts are designed to break down cellulose, not digest hay or other plant matter. This is especially true when the animal is starving since its stomach is already full of partially digested food.
Best winter feed for deer
Wildlife managers have spent decades trying to figure out what exactly makes the best winter feed for deer. While many factors affect the quality of the food that deer eat, nutrition plays a major role. For instance, researchers believe that maintaining adequate levels of fat, carbohydrates and protein is necessary for keeping deer alive through the harsh winter months.
Fat is crucial for wintertime activities including reproduction and nursing. Carbohydrates and proteins are required to sustain life, maintain muscle mass and repair body tissue damaged by extreme cold. Hay, by itself, doesn’t offer enough of either. Therefore, winter-specific mixes must contain additional ingredients such as oils, fats and vitamins.
When choosing a feed mix, look for one that includes a minimum of 14 percent crude protein. Also try to incorporate a wide range of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D3, vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, pyridoxine and potassium. Because deer rely so heavily on fatty acids, a good winter feed should feature ample amounts of omega 3 and 6. Finally, don’t forget to add trace elements like chromium, copper, iodine, selenium and zinc.
After selecting the proper feed, you still have to decide how often to feed it. Read on to learn how.
During the winter months, deer use their antlers for everything from sleeping and fighting to attracting mates and communicating with others in their social group. However, once their physical needs begin to outweigh theirs, hunters take advantage of this fact by killing the male deer with horns before butchering them for meat. Once the males are gone, the bucks start to fight over females. The resulting fights leave both sides injured, but the female endures the trauma better than her mate does.
How often do deer eat in winter
Although winter appears to be a slow season for nature, deer species like white-tailed and mule deer continue to thrive throughout the colder months. Experts claim that the reasons behind this phenomenon are complex and varied, but the main factor seems to be starvation rather than lethargy.
Starvation occurs when an animal’s intake of food is less than what it requires. Since deer live in areas where food is scarce, they usually experience periods of undernutrition followed by periods of feast. Such cycles cause changes in the amount of stored fat reserves, which affects seasonal patterns of breeding and migration.
Deer living in northern climates migrate southward to warmer habitats in late autumn. As soon as the snows melt, they return north again to spend winter. Migrating in spring, however, is uncommon due to the harsh conditions encountered along the way.
Because of these challenges, deer typically suffer from severe bouts of malnutrition during the winter. Without enough nutrient-rich foods, they lose weight, their muscles deteriorate and their ability to withstand disease decreases. Failing to eat in winter puts them at risk of becoming susceptible to parasites like ticks and worms.
Winter deer feed mix
Since deer have unique dietary requirements, it’s difficult to suggest a single winter feed recipe that works well across the board. Fortunately, there are several popular combinations that wildlife managers recommend based on research and practicality.
For example, some experts advise mixing 2 parts oats with 1 part cracked wheat. Others prefer to combine 3 quarters rolled oats, 1 quarter wheat bran and 1/4 cup of water. Still others suggest substituting barley for oats in certain mixes.
Other common additions include 4 cups of alfalfa seed, 2 cups of wheat germ, ground corn, brewer’s rice and kelp meal. Some enthusiasts opt to use a mixture of wild birdseed, sunflower kernels, peanuts, cornmeal and millet.
Some farmers also experiment with the ratio between hay and supplementary feed. One New York farmer claims that his deer seem to enjoy consuming hay mixed with concentrated fish emulsion. Another Massachusetts resident says that he’s able to feed 500 pounds (226 kilograms) of corn pellets every 10 days without causing any problems.
Regardless of what feed combination you use, make sure that it features a balanced blend of vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids. Your local feed dealer can assist you with finding the right mix. Just ask him about the benefits of various supplements, ingredient ratios and possible side effects.
Once you’ve selected and prepared your winter feed mix, you still have to figure out what to feed it. Keep reading to learn about the topic.
Even though deer are herbivorous, they’re carnivores. That means they need meat to survive. Since hunting is prohibited during the winter months, deer owners resort to supplemental feeding to keep their herd going. Wild game birds, such as quail and dove, are also commonly supplemented with commercial feed.
Feeding deer corn in winter
Corn is a favorite among deer owners for obvious reasons. Like hay, corn is relatively inexpensive and contains a lot of calories. Unlike hay, corn isn’t very palatable to deer. As a result, it has less of an impact on their body condition than hay does. In addition to providing extra calories and nutrients, corn can help prevent parasites from taking over your herd in wintertime. Unfortunately, corn has several disadvantages as well. For example:
- It can be contaminated by diseases like foot rot and botulism
- It can be harmful to the environment if not properly disposed of later on
- It can attract predators like coyotes and wolves (depending on your location)
- It can be difficult to digest in cold weather (especially if the deer eat it right before a blizzard) moggement
If you decide to use corn as a winter feeding source for your deer herd, you’ll need to be especially careful not to leave too much uneaten in the pen (unless you want to attract a large number of rodents). To minimize the amount of waste, spread the corn out over an area large enough for the deer to eat without trampling it into mush.