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Consequences of feeding deer in winter


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Consequences of feeding deer in winter

Artificial deer feeding site

Now that white-tailed deer hunting seasons have ended throughout most of New York State, it may be tempting to begin feeding deer to “help” them through the winter. However, feeding deer during the winter or other times of the year is unnecessary, prohibited in New York, and can have very negative consequences for deer, your neighbors, and surrounding wildlife habitat.

During the winter, deer primarily rely on woody and evergreen vegetation (collectively known as woody browse) for their daily nutritional and metabolic needs. The digestive enzymes in a deer’s stomach change in the winter to better digest this browse. If deer are provided with unnatural food sources such as corn or hay after this change in diet has occurred it can result in deer becoming ill or even their death. Deer will attempt to utilize the unnatural food source, but can develop acidosis (i.e., grain overload disease) or enterotoxemia (i.e., Clostridium overgrowth) disease because they can’t digest the food properly. Both diseases occur acutely and can result in the rapid illness and death of deer in winter even though their stomachs are full.

Deer congregated around an artificial feeding site

Deer also congregate around food sources in winter which can increase the risk for disease transmission. For example, if a deer infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD) visits an artificial deer feeding site it will shed CWD prions in its saliva directly on the food, which can infect any other deer that feed from the same site. Congregations of deer around artificial feeding sites can also increase the risk for deer-vehicle collisions and deer related damage to landscape plantings, orchards, and tree farms. Inflated deer densities resulting from deer feeding can also exceed the carrying capacity of the surrounding habitat, resulting in wildlife habitat degradation.

Habitat improvement, especially the creation and promotion of early successional habitat, is the best way to ensure that deer and other species of wildlife have plenty to eat all year and avoids the negative consequences of deer feeding. Anyone interested in improving wildlife habitat on their property can contact their regional DEC deer or wildlife habitat management biologist. For a list of tree and shrub species that deer prefer to eat in winter and that you can promote on your property, visit DEC’s winter deer foods webpage.

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Back when it was legal, my father in law almost single handedly wiped out a local deer herd feeding them.  He put out corn behind his house...which was about 500 feet from a heavily traveled road. Almost daily once the herd found the food source, one to two deer were killed crossing to get to the corn. Not a pretty site.  

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Although "illegal", you can still feed them these things and not kill a single deer, but you have to offer it in small quantity at first, and slowly add to the amount as weeks go by.. too much of a new harsh food at once is what kills them. But most deer know when too much is too much and make themselves stop.. 

The absolute best way to feed deer in the winter time (a legal way) Is cut a soft maple or poplar down, every week or so, they will strip every bud off until they're gone. This Creates cover for wildlife too. When flush cut, the stump will turn into a "Mineral stump" and the younger lower ground vegetation in summer, will be a food source for a couple years. 

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4 minutes ago, LET EM GROW said:

Although "illegal", you can still feed them these things and not kill a single deer, but you have to offer it in small quantity at first, and slowly add to the amount as weeks go by.. too much of a new harsh food at once is what kills them. But most deer know when too much is too much and make themselves stop.. 

The absolute best way to feed deer in the winter time (a legal way) Is cut a soft maple or poplar down, every week or so, they will strip every bud off until they're gone. This Creates cover for wildlife too. When flush cut, the stump will turn into a "Mineral stump" and the younger lower ground vegetation in summer, will be a food source for a couple years. 

This!!  And the real fact is is that any deer that live in farm country and eat corn and alfalfa during the year can be fed the same all winter. Their systems do change to break down the woods browse they eat but do not lose the ability to do the same with corn and alfalfa. Now say deer up in the Adirondacks that have never seen a corn field would definitely be affected if not started out feeding them slowly. The important part is to start slow and do not stop until winter is over and they can get around again out of their yarding areas. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

great advice given already. I'd add that deer select places to hold up over winter not just for food but for other things like thermal cover. placing food for them in a place without these things might persuade them to stay close to this food in less than idea habitat versus where they otherwise would be much better off.

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On 1/18/2023 at 8:32 AM, LET EM GROW said:

Although "illegal", you can still feed them these things and not kill a single deer, but you have to offer it in small quantity at first, and slowly add to the amount as weeks go by.. too much of a new harsh food at once is what kills them. But most deer know when too much is too much and make themselves stop.. 

The absolute best way to feed deer in the winter time (a legal way) Is cut a soft maple or poplar down, every week or so, they will strip every bud off until they're gone. This Creates cover for wildlife too. When flush cut, the stump will turn into a "Mineral stump" and the younger lower ground vegetation in summer, will be a food source for a couple years. 

Wow didn't know this. I have a ton of polar trees in an area that I was going to cut. Best I do it this month to help out the deer. Good info!

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From what I have seen of this winter so far here in Western New York, there really is no need to feed the deer. They can still graze if the wish to. I wonder how much longer this mild winter is going to be around.

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1 hour ago, First-light said:

Wow didn't know this. I have a ton of polar trees in an area that I was going to cut. Best I do it this month to help out the deer. Good info!

Just keep your cuts to around 12" off the ground if you can. Keep the green vegetation this summer low as possible. 

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