If you live in an area that has a large deer population, you may have wanted to feed them. There are plenty of people who enjoy having deer coming into their backyard for some food while others don’t like it at all.
If you’ve never fed a deer before and want to learn what to feed them then you’ve come to the right place.
The best food to feed deer are specialty deer food mixes, oats and legumes while avoiding foods such as human food, meat and corn.
In this article, we’ll be taking you through everything you need to know when it comes to a deer’s diet, how the diet differs depending on the species of deer and the best foods to choose when feeding deer as well as what the advantages and disadvantages are when it comes to feeding deer and answering those burning questions you may have.
Is it a good idea to feed deer?
Before we delve into the different foods that deer love to eat and what the best options are, it’s important to know whether feeding deer is a good idea at all.
After all, you don’t want to be potentially harming the deer in any way by causing damage to their digestive system.
Luckily, it is absolutely fine to feed deer and is often encouraged, especially during the winter months when there aren’t as many natural foods available for them to eat.
There are certain things that you should be aware of when you are planning to feed the deer.
Some people unfortunately forget that the deer are wild animals and should be treated as such. Since they feed on natural resources, using natural and fresh foods is the best way to go.
A general rule of thumb would be to feed the deer foods that it would feed on in the wild in order to ensure that they are getting the nutrients.
Here are some tips to ensure that you give your deer the correct foods:
The first thing you should do is make sure that if you are wanting to feed the deer that it becomes a continuous routine. This is because the deer will start to become reliant during the winter months.
It’s important to make sure that you feed them all the way through until spring which is when they can start to find food in the wild again.
No human food
This one should go without saying but no wild animal should be fed human food. This is because the wild deer has a different digestive system to us and what may be beneficial to us could potentially be fatal to them.
Even if you have scraps that you want to get rid off, never feed these to the deer. It will do more harm than good.
Don’t feed in one area
It’s important to remember that deer are prey to certain predators and are often targeted by human hunters as well.
If you want to feed them in the wild then make sure you choose a variety of locations so the deer won’t congregate in one area at the same time.
Stay away from roads
Lastly, always make sure that you place the food away from any roads or heavily populated areas. This will help to reduce any potential road accidents and make the deer feel safer and more comfortable when they eat their food.
As you can see, feeding deer is an extremely important and kind thing to do, especially when their resources are low but it’s also equally essential to ensure that you are making the process as safe as possible for the deer in terms of what you feed them and where you place the food.
What foods can you feed deer?
Now that you know the basics, it’s important to learn what kinds of foods you can feed the deer.
The first thing you need to know about their diet is that they are known as Concentrate Selectors which means that they are herbivores who feed by extending their necks and muzzles as high as they can in the trees.
This is because their favorite foods are found in the foliage and plants higher up in the trees which is what defines them as Selectors.
There are some deer species that prefer to eat stems and leaves thanks to their succulence but the majority will be found eating from the trees.
Deer are also ruminators which means that they eat extremely fast when faced with the food but they will ruminate later on. Like most wild animals, their diets change throughout the year as what they eat depends on season.
White tailed deer diet
The most common kind of deer found in the US is the white tailed deer. Chances are if you have lots of deer roaming around your local wildlife, it will be a white tailed deer.
Here, we’ve gathered everything you need to know about their diet so you’ll know what to feed them as well as knowing how they feed in the wild. Here are the most important things you need to know about the white tailed deer diet:
The first thing to mention is that the white tailed deer’s diet is called the browsing process which is when they search trees and shrubs for stems and leaves as we have mentioned previously.
The second thing that is important to a white tailed deer is the mast. This portion of the diet consists of acorns, fruits and nuts which provides deer with all the energy it needs.
Deer need energy in case they encounter any hunters or predators and need to escape quickly.
During the winter months and the time when their antlers are growing, deer will rely on their mast foods in order to give them the energy to survive.
Their favorite fruits include blackberries, grapes and plums when they are growing antlers while apples and pears are great for storing fat during the winter months.
Acorns and chestnuts are essential to a deer’s diet. Make sure that you put no exotic nuts in the deer’s diet as acorns and chestnuts have a low tannin content which can slow down their digestive system.
A lot of people think that the main portion of a deer’s diet is made up of grass. This is probably thanks to movies such as Bambi where the deer are only seen eating grass.
However, white tailed deer will only have grass when they are in the fawn stage of their life. Unless there are no other natural foods that they can eat, you may see an adult eating upon the grass.
Cereals such as oat, rye and wheat are also often fed to deer; however, the majority of these shouldn’t be fed as the deer cannot digest cereal properly.
There are certain grains that are gentler on their stomach which can be fed so be sure to do your research.
What you shouldn’t feed deer
Just as there are plenty of foods that you can feed deer, there are still foods that shouldn’t be given to deer or should be kept to a minimum. Here are the main examples that you should be wary of before feeding the deer:
It’s important to remember that deer are herbivores. This means that they do not eat any other animals. Therefore, it should go without saying that you should not under any circumstances attempt to feed the deer animal remains.
Not only will it upset the deer’s digestive system, but it also isn’t natural for the deer to eat it and can cause long term damage.
One food that deer love the most is corn. It also is one of the most popular foods that people feed wild deer. However, it’s important to ensure that corn isn’t the only food that you feed the deer.
This is because it is highly acidic which can eventually kill the microorganisms that deer need to digest their food. If they have too much corn then their digestive system will suffer which in turn is fatal.
One food that deer despise is hay as they can’t digest or process it. In fact, hay can be extremely dangerous as other foods cannot pass through their digestive system if there is hay in their stomach.
It may seem like a food deer would like but avoid this at all costs.
Human food and other scraps
Lastly, as previously mentioned in this guide, human foods such as junk food and other scraps are not advised in any portion. Deer have a completely different kind of diet to farm animals such as pigs or cows.
They won’t be able to process and digest the food properly which will have drastic consequences.
Advantages and disadvantages
Deer are still wild animals and should be able to rely on their natural habitat for the majority of their food.
However, there are advantages and disadvantages to feeding the deer which we delve into in this section, starting with the advantages.
Advantages of feeding deer
There are plenty of advantages that come with feeding deer. This is because if you choose foods that are appropriate for their diet then this can be a lifesaver during difficult times of the year.
Here are just a few advantages that you should know:
The main advantage is that you can help to provide food for the deer during the winter months when their natural resources are scarce.
Deer may find it difficult to find nourishing food so providing regular food throughout this time will ensure that they have the proper nutrients and energy they need.
When deer are at the growing stage of their life and developing antlers, they can find it difficult to find food that is suitable. They need more energy and nutrients during this time to ensure that they have optimum growth and plenty of protein.
Therefore, catering to growing deer will be highly beneficial as well.
Providing suitable foods will mean that the deer will always have a resource for proper nutrients rather than having to rely on unhealthy feeds.
This is particularly important for fawn growth as they need plenty of protein and nutrients to have healthy bone and muscle growth.
Disadvantages of feeding deer
Just as it is important to know about the advantages of feeding deer, the disadvantages are probably even more crucial to know so you can be aware of what to avoid.
There are three main disadvantages that come with feeding deer that you need to learn about:
The first disadvantage probably doesn’t come as a surprise and is all about the idea that feeding deer is interfering with the natural selection process.
Not only can this contribute to deer overpopulation but it can also cause the deer to become too reliant on your food.
Once you start feeding the deer, you cannot simply stop feeding them. Therefore, it can be quite expensive to provide food for long periods of time, especially through the winter months.
Due to their nature and strength, deer can cause damage to property which you should be wary of if you are wanting them to visit your backyard.
Bear this in mind if there are more of them as they will just walk wherever they please.
Ticks and other diseases
As deer are wild animals, you need to be cautious of any diseases and ticks that can easily be transferred should you get too close to the deer.
Feeding baby deer
There are few films less heartbreaking than Bambi when the titular character is left alone following the death of his mother. This may play on your heartstrings and make you want to feed a fawn should you find one by itself.
However, it’s important to remember that it is likely that the fawn may not be abandoned at all and that its mother is nearby collecting food.
If you can’t see a doe in sight then observe its feeding patterns over the course of a few hours to see if it will eat and whether it looks to be cold.
If so then you can collect it but it’s important not to touch it as this will mark it and make the fawn more vulnerable and susceptible to predators.
How to take care of a faw
Taking the fawn should be done with extra care by using gloves and with the permission of your local wildlife authority.
While you are waiting for a wildlife rehabilitator to arrive, you can feed the fawn goat milk which is the closest supplement for deer milk until it is time to return it to the forest.
You can use a baby bottle using a few drops of the milk so it is as natural as possible.
Feeding a baby whitetail deer
If you are wanting to feed a whitetail fawn then use a few drops of goat milk and lactate formula in the baby bottle.
If the fawn is a little bit older than newborn then add some organic oats into the mix until it looks like a porridge before feeding it to the fawn.
Feeding an older baby deer
If the fawn is older and larger in size then mix in some fruits into the milk mixture.
Slices of apple or banana provide a higher sugar content which will keep their energy levels up as well as ensuring that they are getting the healthy fats that they need to grow properly.
Feeding deer in your backyard
If you are planning to feed wild deer then the chances are you are either going to be picking places in your local forest area or welcoming them into your backyard.
If you are wanting to lure deer into your backyard then make sure you follow these tips so both you and the deer can have the safest and most enjoyable experience possible:
Laying out the food at the right times
The first thing you will need to remember is to lay out the food at certain times of the day. The food should be put out at dawn and dusk which is when deer tend to be more active.
Try to lay out as much food as possible to ensure that the deer are getting as much nourishment as possible.
If you don’t put out a lot of food or your supply starts to dwindle then you may find that the deer start to act violent towards one another as they compete for what little food is there.
Setting the food out properly
The next thing to remember is setting the food out properly. This means that you should be placing the food out in numerous places and not in one place.
This will help to prevent any predators such as bears and wolves from tracking the deer and your home down. Be aware that any dogs that you have can eventually become predators and start to hunt down the deer as well.
We have covered this point previously but it is still an important part of the deer feeding experience. There is a strong likelihood that your fences and garden landscape are going to face some serious damage when the deer flock to your backyard.
The more deer you manage to lure in, the more damage is likely to occur. Wild animals don’t understand the difference between the flowers in your garden and the flowers in the wild so try to lure them to places where you don’t mind a bit of mess.
Spreading the food out in different areas of your backyard not only prevents predators from tracking the deer down but it can also prevent any diseases from being spread among the deer or to you and your family.
Remember that wild deer are wild and that means that they are more likely to have ticks or other similar diseases. Having lots of deer crowded in one place can cause a huge problem to your local wildlife with some diseases even being potentially dangerous towards humans.
The best deer food mixtures
If you are wanting to purchase deer food mixtures then there are some that are better than others. In this section, we’ll be taking you through the top three mixtures that you should consider.
Not only are they guaranteed to provide the deer with the appropriate nutrients but the deer absolutely love to eat them as well. Here are the top deer food mixtures available on the market:
OUR TOP PICK
Our first recommendation is the Audubon Park 12243 Critter Crunch Wild Bird and Critter Food which has been specially blended for backyard wildlife that attracts a variety of animals including deer.
This mixture consists of a natural blend of black oil, corn, peanuts, sunflower seeds and whole peanuts meaning that the deer will get plenty of nutrition and energy during the winter months.
This mixture can be put on a platform or a table feeder making it highly versatile.
What makes this our top pick is that Audubon Park is a family owned company with all products made in America. This food is a 15 pound bag so you’ll get a lot of portions out of the bags.
Established in 1982, the Audubon Park brand has garnered a leading reputation in the field thanks to their use of organic ingredients that are the highest quality.
If you want to ensure that the deer will keep coming back, using this food will do just the trick.
- This mixture consists of a natural blend of black oil, corn, peanuts, sunflower seeds and whole peanuts meaning that the deer will get plenty of nutrition and energy during the winter months
- Features a 15 pound bag so you’ll get a lot of portions out of the bags
- The Audubon Park brand has garnered a leading reputation in the field thanks to their use of organic ingredients that are the highest quality
- Bag can be small to size
Our second selection is the Whitetail Institute Imperial Clover Deer Food which has been made with deers in mind.
Packed with plenty of antler building protein, this food is great for the antler growing period as well as the colder winter months.
Helping to deliver heavier and healthier fawns and producing more milk, the Whitetail Institute Imperial Clover Deer Food is one of the most popular choices when it comes to deer food as it provides the deer with their essential nutrients.
Providing up to 35% protein year round for up to 3 to 5 years from a single planting, this food will promote antler, bone and muscle growth in all deers.
This food is cold resistant so it is ideal if you are wanting a mixture that can resist harsh freezing conditions.
It has been coated with RainBond which provides an enhanced seedling survivability so there will be even more food available once grown.
The Clover food is extremely attractive to deer who will be drawn to your property and you’ll be able to hold them there. This is one of a few options on the market that has been developed for deer and Whitetail Institute has put in a lot of research into this mixture.
- Packed with plenty of antler building protein, this food is great for the antler growing period as well as the colder winter months
- Has been coated with RainBond which provides an enhanced seedling survivability so there will be even more food available once grown
- Is extremely attractive to deer who will be drawn to your property and you’ll be able to hold them there
- High price point
Our final choice is the Backyard Seeds Deer Feed & Wildlife Mix which has been designed and developed for an array of wildlife including deer.
This mixture contains four ingredients that provide deer with all their nutrients.
The in-shell whole peanuts are a fantastic source of nutrition and energy which deer definitely need during the winter months when natural energy resources are scarce and they are more vulnerable to hunters and predators.
The striped sunflower seeds are high energy that are filled with a large amount of protein which is essential for a healthy deer’s diet while the shelled peanuts are rich in fats and oils to ensure that their digestive system remains healthy.
The whole corn is a popular snack for deer and other wildlife creatures such as chipmunks and squirrels.
This mixture is made from premium ingredients that have been naturally grown and organic to ensure that there are no additives or artificial ingredients when the deer eats the food.
The total food content includes 16% fat, 14% protein and 14% fiber so the deer’s digestive system and energy levels will be strong enough to withstand the winter months.
This 20 pound bag is ideal for those who have a lot of deer in their local wildlife that need feeding as it will last a long period of time.
- Made from premium ingredients that have been naturally grown and organic to ensure that there are no additives or artificial ingredients when the deer eats the food
- The total food content includes 16% fat, 14% protein and 14% fiber so the deer’s digestive system and energy levels will be strong enough to withstand the winter months
- This 20 pound bag is ideal for those who have a lot of deer in their local wildlife that need feeding as it will last a long period of time
- There’s a larger amount of corn than the other foods
Frequently Asked Questions
What do deer love to eat the most?
There are plenty of foods that deer absolutely love to eat which changes depending on the season and what life stage they are at.
Fruits like apples and blackberries are highly popular and nutritious while nuts such as acorns and pecans
Do deer like apples or corn best?
Apples and corn are both adored by deer but if it was a competition between the two then apples are undoubtedly the winner. If you were to serve an apple and corn mix to a deer, they would eat the apple first before proceeding to the corn.
What attracts deer the most?
There are plenty of plants that will attract deer including chicory and red clover. If you want to lure some deer to your backyard to feed them, laying these plants out will do just the trick.
Other things that attract deer include high protein crops like kale and soybeans which they love to ear. Acorns and chestnuts are a certified success as well as they provide plenty of nutrients.
Will deer eat Quaker oats?
There are certain oats that deer won't digest properly but luckily, Quaker oats are a great choice for them if you don’t have a formulated food mix to hand. Quaker oats are full of carbohydrates and fiber which means that the deer’s digestive system won’t be disrupted.
Do deer travel the same path every day?
As mentioned earlier in this article, it’s best to feed the deer in a different place each time so they don’t congregate in the same area which makes them vulnerable to hunters and predators.
The deer will spend their day walking as far as they can, providing it is safe before heading home. They walk along the same route each day and how far they get depends on the year.
Overall, feeding deer can be done and is promoted during more difficult times of the year. However, it is important to follow the tips given in this article to ensure that you aren’t giving them foods that are bad for them or putting them in harm’s way.
Understanding how a deer’s diet changes throughout their lives and each season will also mean that you’ll be able to help take care of them and give them a better quality of life. It’s essential to provide the deer with the right kinds of food so they have plenty of energy.