Feeding Deer During Stressful Conditions
This week I received several questions about feeding corn to deer due to the stressful winter conditions throughout much of the whitetails’ range. No one likes the thought of deer suffering and searching for food in the extreme cold and deep snow.
However, starting to feed corn after deer are stressed and there isn’t much food for them to eat can cause more harm than good. Some ask “How could I over deer with corn when the biggest whitetails produced annually are from areas where corn and soybean are grown commercially?”
That’s a fair question with a relatively simple answer. Corn can be a great part of a balanced diet for deer.
However when deer feed primarily on corn or other starchy foods (grains, apples, sugar beets, etc.) and don’t have an adequate amount of fiber in their diet a disruption of the bug populations (bacteria, protozoa, and fungi) in their stomach often occurs. These bugs are necessary for deer to digest foods – all types of foods.
Without a healthy population of these bugs in a deer’s gut to help the digestive process, deer can literally die with a tummy full of corn.
When folks with good intentions put out a bunch of corn when deer are already stressed and don’t have much else to eat it results in deer gorging on the corn. After the initial feeding the deer often stop eating and may begin staggering, be unable to rise, or be found standing quietly for 24 to 72 hours. Affected animals often have an enlarged stomach and diarrhea. The most severely affected will die within 24 to 72 hours – with a belly full of corn since there weren’t enough bugs in their gut to digest the meal.
Their death will usually be sudden and the animals will appear in good
body condition. However, if a necropsy (autopsy for wildlife) is performed the stomach is often full of corn or other grain, and there will often be dark red erosions in the lining of the stomach caused by the acid.
It seems counter intuitive, but the best action during the late winter when the conditions are harsh and deer are very stressed is to either start feeding with a balanced ration that includes plenty of fiber as well as energy (carbs) or simply don’t feed at all. Feeding only corn at this time is rarely a good solution.
Don’t fall for the temptation to simply throw out a bag of corn if you feel sorry for the deer. You could be doing way more harm than good.
Growing and hunting deer together,
Dr. Grant Woods, GrowingDeer.tv
Dr. Grant Woods was raised and began his love of white-tailed deer as a bow hunter in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri.