Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Feeding the Deer Properly or Not At All

When I am wrong, then I say I am wrong.  In my defense, a person can't know everything about everything.  I had a rude awakening this morning.  I saw a video piece from a zoo in Wisconsin.  They were talking about how important it is for white tailed deer to be fed properly during the winter.  As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I love seeing the deer.  I feed them a small amount of corn everyday.  Many of the counties in Wisconsin don't allow feeding at all, but our county does.  I always felt fortunate that was the case.  Little did I know, I was literally killing the deer with kindness.  The video said to check out more information from the Wisconsin DNR webpage.  So that is what I did.  To my horror it said that the worse thing you can give deer is hay and corn.  It went on to mention the reason why.  It said that corn is what most wildlife lovers offer deer, and even if it’s labeled “deer corn",  feeding corn to deer is about the worst thing you can do.  Unless you’re trying to kill the deer.  The deer build up a hearty fat layer during the spring and summer.  Then in the fall, when there isn't as much food available, they start using up their fat reserves.   By late fall, deer instinctively reduce their food intake and continue to do so through most of the winter.  They mostly eat bark and leaves to get by.  Deer digestion is a finely tuned physiological process.  They have just the right combination of microorganisms, enzymes, and pH to enable the deer to digest a normal winter diet of woody vegetation. When offered a sudden supply of corn, a deer’s digestive system doesn’t have time to adjust to a high carbohydrate diet. The result can be acute acidosis sometimes followed by death.  At the time of death they can appear normal and well fed.  It’s just that they cannot digest the corn.  Corn and hay alters the environment in the rumen.  It turns it acidic and destroys the microbes needed for normal digestion.

I recently heard from a facebook friend that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was found in her county in Northern Wisconsin.  When this happens they ban all feeding of the deer and even the birds because the deer eat birdseed from the feeders if nothing else is available.   Apparently feeding the deer attracts large amounts of deer together and therefore it can spread diseases more rapidly.  Our deer are pretty territorial and the same few deer live in our woods.  We don't get very many new deer venturing into the space.  I see many more deer grazing in corn fields along the highway.  I guess they can't read the guidelines, and they don't know that they are breaking the rules.

Late February and March are the most dangerous time for deer unrelated to traffic causes.  Their fat reserves are almost gone, and it is the time when most deer die.   The guidelines suggest that if you do decide to feed deer then you should use a special high protein mixture made for deer or horse, goat or rabbit pellets.  You can also feed them oats.  So guess what I'm doing today.  I am going to buy some different food for the deer.  It would break my heart to have them come for their evening snack, look up at the window and then have nothing from me.  I don't think I give them enough to depend on me for food or spoil their digestion, but I don't want to do them any harm.

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