Hello Fellow Readers, Last week’s buck rub chat inspired John from Pen Argyl, PA, to ask if feeding deer would keep them from eating his shrubs. There are signs around town offering deer corn for sale, which means folks with kind intentions feed them. Or, maybe planning to bate them for a hunt, which hardly seems fair game. Why you shouldn’t feed deer, dear.
It’s tough not to feel bad for wildlife when temperatures are frigid, and snow abounds. However, feeding deer can actually harm them. And because food piles won’t meet all of their nutritional needs, it will devastatingly add to deer browse as feeding concentrates deer in one area. Never mind their enormous mess of leave-behinds and yellow snow.
Feeding deer increases the risk of disease.
Their unnatural concentration also increases the risk of spreading parasites and diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) found in Pennsylvania in 2012 – thankfully not yet in our local area. CWD is similar to mad cow disease, though there are no confirmed cases of humans contracting it.
Deer have a blend of bacteria in their digestive system that work together to enable them to break down plant material as seasons change. Their bacteria changes to accommodate the available food. According to the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife website, ‘When deer are fed high carbohydrate foods out of season, they lack the necessary gut microflora to digest these foods. This can result in lactic acidosis, which causes bloating, diarrhea, enteritis, and in some cases, death.’
While we hear more concern over bear being a threat…
Like feeding bear, by feeding deer, they lose their fear of humans and can become dangerous. I recall reading about a human attacked by a deer a few years back in Lake Hopatcong, NJ.
Yes, we’ve moved into their territory, making guilt a motivation to offer up food. But feeding deer (and bear by leaving trash outside) can dramatically increase their fertility, which adds to the problem of overpopulation.
Deer are hardwired to get through the winter on their own. They go into a feeding frenzy to build up a fat reserve to go along with their winter coat in the fall. As the cold weather sets in, their metabolism slows, they become less active, and they’ll seek sheltered areas. Supplementing food interrupts its natural ability to adapt and survive. So no help is the best help for deer (and your garden).
Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com
Column updated 11/20/2020
About Buck Rub
Link to – NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife