Feeding corn to deer could be death sentence

Just days after 20 inches of snow blanketed the ridge, a second storm arrived. We could have another 8 inches by morning.

Such conditions bring out the softie in many of us. We make sure the bird feeders are filled even before we shovel out the driveway.

Feeding the deer?

But what about feeding the deer? They need a little help too, don’t they?

NO, no, no! Do not feed the deer.

So says Jerry Feaser of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Jim Crum, deer biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, and Dr. Anne Ballmann, veterinarian and wildlife disease specialist for the National Wildlife Health Center.

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And in New York, it’s actually “illegal to feed deer by putting out any material that attracts deer to feed.” Or face a fine of up to $250 and 15 days in jail for each day of the offense.

It’s unanimous among wildlife professionals. Feeding deer is a bad idea. In New York, it’s criminal.

Don’t feed the deer! 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.

Feaser points to a PGC brochure, Please Don’t Feed the Deer, which is available at www.pgc.state.pa.us. (Click on the white-tailed deer icon, then “Living with Whitetails.”)

“By late fall, deer instinctively reduce their food intake and continue to do so through most of the winter,” Feaser says. “During that time deer rely heavily on fat reserves and their ability to conserve energy.”

Deer survival. In fact, a 1984 Pennsylvania study found that deer could survive a least a month with no food at all. During winter, deer lose 20 percent or more of their body weight by burning fat reserves. They are well adapted to survive the many stresses that winter presents.

Crum understands that people mean well, but, “I see too many deer on my necropsy table with bellies full of corn.”

Digestion problems

The problem is that deer digestion is a finely tuned physiological process. Just the right combination of microorganisms, enzymes, and pH enable 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 followed by death within 72 hours.

At the time of death these individuals can appear normal and well fed. It’s just that they cannot digest the corn. Within six hours, corn alters the environment in the rumen. It turns the rumen acidic and destroys the microbes needed for normal digestion.

Not all deer die immediately from acidosis. Its effects vary with the age and health of the individual. Some may simply slow down, get clumsy, and become easy prey to speeding traffic and hungry coyotes.

It takes deer two to four weeks of feeding on a new food source to establish populations of microbes necessary to digest the new food. It can’t happen in just a few days during a snowstorm. And healthy individuals that might survive in the short term often succumb to complications weeks later.

Caution

Furthermore, Dr. Ballmann cautions that supplemental feeding “concentrates deer in small areas where a variety of infectious diseases can be spread.” And in traveling to and from a supplemental source of food, deer, especially the young and the old, expend energy they can’t afford to lose.

Feeding deer is never a good idea. I know this runs counter to what many people think, especially those who feed deer. But just because deer don’t die in your backyard doesn’t mean they aren’t dying elsewhere in the woods or on the highway. The worst thing you can do for deer is feed them. Some will starve, and some will fall prey to coyotes, but that’s how healthy populations stay healthy.

Help in other ways

If you really want to help the local deer population, concentrate on habitat improvement. Plant mast-bearing trees and shrubs. Plant a stand of conifers to provide winter cover from wind and snow. And create forest openings to stimulate the growth of the woody browse that sustains deer herds all winter long.

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

22 Comments

  1. joey wynne says:

    This is the dumbest artical i have ever seen. Why would someone ever believe that corn kills deer? deer eat from corn my corn feeders every year actually the same deer a buck that has been coming around for 3 years now. oh yeah lets use our head on this one what about the millions of acres of corn fields in the united states that do not kill deer! All im saying is if corn killed deer than over time deer would learn to stay away from all types of corn!

    • common sense says:

      PLEASE PLEASE Look up genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Almost all of the corn in the U.S. is now genetically modified. It not only slowly or quickly kills them it kills their babies and their babies….and so on. Unless your corn is organic and non contaminated it is genetically modified. GMOs kill animals, people, the environment. You name it. Stop eating it, stop giving it to animals, stop ignoring it. It is one of the single most threatening things to life on this planet and it needs to be stopped. Helping bio-engineering companies by buying their product and supporting their business is like supporting hitler. It’s just plain pure evil. If you want to know the company that works hand and hand with the devil….that would be Monsanto and any other company they have bought or taken over which is a lot now. They are the creators of agent orange….the chemical used to kill anything and everything in veitnam. It killed plants, humans, you name it. It’s still killing and hurting people and plants to this day. That is just the tip of the iceberg though. If your going to feed the deer….use their native food or grow their native food and don’t kill them with corn or soy or anything else GMO. Learn and Live PLEASE

      • ildiko says:

        you are right about the GMO corn….and I do feel guilty about that…IF the corn that I buy is that….but I am not certain. It is local…and not all corn is GMO…only the large producers of corn are probably. So far, the fawns that have been born year after year to my does, seem fine. The herd has not had any illnesses this year except for a few with some pussycat eyes. The first year I lived here my favorite doe Nellie, had ticks all over her face. This year, I have yet to see an embedded tick on any of them. (I have about 12-20 visit me daily)

    • Steve says:

      I think Joey is correct. If corn is bad for deer, there would be no deer found near farmer’s corn fields. We have been growing corn in our country for a long time. The deer herd would be getting smaller with time if corn was bad for them, instead it is getting larger. Don’t stop feeding them.

    • Dawn says:

      Read the article, not just the title. It has to do with the time of year and the changeover in the digestive tract from season to season.

  2. Stewart G. says:

    Deer that live near corn fields may have adapted, they know how much and what they can eat. City deer have no access to corn fields.

  3. eddie wijkiowski says:

    i’m looking out at my neighbors cornfield he hasn’t cut down. it’s winter and 8 deer have gathered together in close proximity and they are feeding on the corn. maybe they are suicidial and i should chase them out of the field. maybe i should ask to have the farmer fined for allowing the deer to be attracted to the “killing corn”. it appears that pa. hires their personnel off the same list as ny.. the low end of the ged.

  4. Tasha says:

    wow, this is crazy. Ive watched my family my whole life feed deer corn. my grandfather FOR YEARS has put out corn,apples,salt blocks lettuce, etc etc just to watch them from his house. YEARSS people. and I do it myself now. and each year the same deer return to eat. I would agree that corn alone isnt a good idea, because the deer will over indulge himself on just corn. I would suggest putting out apples and veggies with it, I also wouldnt suggest feeding from feeders or pouring large amounts of corn on the ground, just a hand or two full tossed out is good enough for them as a treat. so they dont over eat.. is it possible that the deer he is getting on his necropsy table had just got through eating and was hit by a car??? or died from some other cause right after eating?

  5. Derek says:

    people i have pictures of multiple deer bucks, doe’s, and yearlings that ive been watching for years coming to my feed , ive got names for them even in no way have they been hurt by not being able to digest corn deer have rock solid digestive systems if they can digest twigs and other woody type browse then they can corn also this sounds more like people who are against feeding wildlife are just trying to stir up gossip but what they need to understand is that not everybody has the land or even the money to go out plant feilds of clover for their deer like you see on tv but you have my word if I ever see deer being effected by the feed I put out then i will stop immediatly but we all know these are false aqusations

  6. Travis says:

    perhaps the idea is not that corn in itself kills the deer but feeding corn to deer who do not normally eat corn can kill the deer. It is the same with other animals, many birds cannot eat certain types of foods and if they do it will kill them. Fish and Game biologists here in Oregon have stated that the corn acts as a filler so the deer do not get enough of the other nutritious foods that they can properly digest. I am not against feeding the deer but I think you need to be careful what you feed. Most people locally who feed the deer, elk or whatever just break open a bale of hay or alfalfa.

  7. ildiko says:

    I beg to disagree with you on the corn. I have learned from another source, that if deer are fed corn year round, they adapt to it and are fine. I have been feeding the same does for the past four years, but not only do I feed corn, but also whole oats, apples, carrots, and other vegetable scraps. Yes, now & then, a few select ones get bread crusts (whole grain only) but I also have help several does who were gravely injured by car accidents. I never intended to feed them, it sort of developed gradually. I had bird feeders out, and the deer were drawn to the dropped sunflower seeds. That is how it all began. Now, I spend more on my deer friends than on my cat & dogs. My bill for 2010 was about $800. I wish I could curtail it, but because of living in a community of 1500 households, I see their habitat decreased by continued building of new homes. They are stuck here, and the tree line is proof that they don’t have enough to eat. We humans have taken their land, built mcmansions on the lots, and then we wonder why they visit our unnatural gardens that are not part of the typical landscape of the area. By giving them supplemental feedings once per day (and they don’t get more than a handful each) it seems to keep them from invading my fenced perennial garden & they need less of my neighbor’s gardens too. I read somewhere that if you can provide them with at least 3 acres of greens to feed on, they will have enough. So I feel justified that I am not harming them, but helping them.

  8. debby warford says:

    We feed deer corn every evening. We see new babies born all the time. I think its animal rights people that came up with the”no feeding corn thing” Im like the rest of you I have this HUGE buck thats been coming around since 2007. He looks good to me!

  9. ildiko says:

    I really think that the game commission is educating us on this to protect the deer in the wild so they can be hunted. I also read somewhere, that hunting actually propels the herds to grow. So it is hunting in itself that is creating the overabundance. Hunters bait deer all the time in unlawful ways. They also poach…by killing them with lights at night. They use tree stands & bait them to those, so they can easily shoot them. We have caused more destruction to wildlife with illegal activities than we will do damage by feeding them. I just don’t buy it. Of course, there will always be the scientists who are paid well to put together their studies that go against the grain (pun intended.) However, I am concerned about feeding them GMO corn, as one remark mentions above. 80% of corn in the US is seed sold by Monsanto and it is GMO corn. When I asked at the feed store where their corn comes from, they tell me it’s local, but they just don’t know if they are GMO or not. People in the business should be educated more than that…and should stop supporting big AG.

    • Avid Hunter says:

      Ildiko…..you really should not “lump” all hunters as engaging in illegal and unlawful acts. All hunters DO NOT poach or use illegal practices. It is people like you that give hunters a bad name. I am an avid hunter, have been for for 26 years now, and i take lots of pride in it. My son, who is 10 years old loves hunting as well. I am teaching him gun safety and all of the ethics of hunting at an early age. This is important for so many reasons, well beyond the scope of hunting. And most certainly, you are blind and quite foolish, if you think hunters are causing “destruction to wildlife”. I am sure you are a “PETA’ person, and think it is cruel and pointless to hunt deer, or any animal for that. You are merely an uneducated individual. If you took the time to research and understand hunting, you would learn it is regulated by the Department of Insurance. They have a STRONG hand in determining seasons, rules, and regulations for all animals hunted. Hunters actually provided a safety factor to you and your loved ones. If hunters didn’t hunt deer, there would be an overabundance of deer on the highway, resulting in a substantially higher number of auto accidents each year. An over populated deer herd would also lead to disease and malnutrition. Deer would not have enough food to forage on and many would become sick. The problem with that is they would spread amongst the herd and kill off majority of the herd.

      Determining “seasons” for hunting is actually a well thought out process. They are relevant to mating, population studies, statistics, etc., and are not just created by some hick named Bubba, Billy, or Bob. They are regulated by State, as well as Federal, governmental agencies. Of course they are probably in cahoots with Bob, or Billy, or Bubba. I do not understand why people like yourself who are so smart and know all their is to know (well at least more than the highly educated people that are actually doing it now) don’t actually run, or at least work for, these types of governmental agencies. If you can run it better, stopping sitting in a chat room telling everyone what everyone else is doing wrong. But more importantly, do some research. Become more knowledgeable. Stopping spatting ignorance until you have some detailed facts to prove your point.

      • ildiko says:

        Dear Avid Hunter: I don’t think you really read my words carefully enough to understand that I never “lumped ALL hunters”…hunters means plural…more than one…therefore, you can defend yourself all you like. I have read plenty, and perhaps read where hunters don’t read…because they want to believe what they will.

        Regardless, you didn’t convince me with your justifications & convictions. An organization is as good as what it is proposing. Most of the organizations that run hunting market themselves for the purpose of making $$$$…(licensing, education, game lands, etc.)regardless of what the reality may demand or what the truth may be.

        The only hunting I can accept in theory is the hunting that is needed for survival. If you hunt to bring food on the table for your family, so be it. But there are many who abuse that privileged and maim & destroy animals for the sake of the hunt. I have seen plenty of it in the Waywayanda Forests of NJ/NY when I walked the woods picking up all the beer cans & gun shot shells the hunters left behind along with blown out bodies of guinie hens.(sp?)

        No, it is not I who gives hunting a bad rap…but the hunters who are reckless & crazy & should not be allowed guns at all.

        If man would be more respectful of nature, he would not drive cars, he would not kill needlessly, and he would stop building unsustainably. Hopefully, in the future world man will change his ways so that life becomes more precious to him, even in the animal.

    • NAK says:

      I am a Wildlife Consultant and make a living managing whitetail deer on private farms, leases, etc. I would like to know where you read that hunting propels deer population numbers. Please publish the like or reference because I would like to read it. Hunting in no way will jump start a population of deer to grow faster. Hunting is the most effective and efficient way to manage and control white-tailed deer populations that we have today. Predators are effective but in most areas they are not abundant enough to control the deer. Some places they are and harvest numbers and regulations should be adjusted accordingly. Unless you are closely monitoring a particular whitetail population via camera surveys, observation data, harvest data, pellet counts, etc. there is no way you can make educated decisions the affect of hunting, predators, or any other form of population control. I would encourage everyone to read the book “Know Hunting” by Dr. David Samuel. You will have a much better understanding of hunting. Also, in regard to the corn, corn in itself will not kill the deer. That is not what this article is saying. You need to understand how a deer’s digestive system works. There are situations and conditions that can cause corn to harm deer. They are suggesting that no one feed the deer so that you can eliminate these situations all together. No one can look at a deer and tell if its digestive system is prepared to consume large amounts of corn. Also, disease transmission is a real concern at feeding stations. Many deer coming in close contact at a feeding station is much different than many deer spread out across a field searching for left over corn after a field has been harvested.

  10. Willy Gillum says:

    My question is, Why feed corn? My money goes to professionally processed feed design for deer and their digestive systems. My focus is deer, not all the other animals who eat corn, therefor my feed is mostly consumed by deer! Feeding deer corn is like feeding a kid candy ! They like it but how much good does it do?

  11. ildiko says:

    I do not feed them corn selectively. I buy deer feed as well as whole oats and mix with corn. Yes, they do LOVE corn, but I know better. If the other feed was cheaper, I would only give them that. But corn is still the least expensive, and they do eat it in the fields where it’s grown…so it’s not quite true that they should not eat it. In the winter, they eat anything & everything because they just don’t have enough food in our community. All the tree growth is above their heads, so they forage for ornamental plants as well. By feeding them, it does cut down on what they will eat out of our gardens. Thanks for your feedback.

  12. Willy Gillum says:

    Ok, I’m just saying corn is $7.75 for 50 pounds, coons, opposums, squirrels, rats, crows and everything else eats it. Deer chow is $12.75 for 50 pounds and I have seen “only” deer eat it. Corn is about 8% protein, deer chow 20% protein and is balanced nutrition. I view corn as “bait” and chow as feed, I feed them! I also plant wheat, oats and winter peas in fall. Spring I plant iron and clay peas and blackeye peas. To each his own!

    • empiremack says:

      I sincerely doubt animals other than deer would not eat the ” deer chow” you put out for just deer. I can’t see them being hungry and walking around deer chow to find maybe ” raccoon chow” somewhere. Most food is fair game for most game.i

  13. Willy Gillum says:

    It also gives me great pleasure to see a doe an spotted fawns eating chow together in late summer when natural food sources are poor quality!

  14. Avid Hunter says:

    ildiko, I do not expect to convince someone who is uneducated and closed minded. However, we as hunters enjoy reading posts from hypocrites as yourself. Have you ever set out a mouse trap or poisonous rat bait? I am sure after you read where I am going with this question, you will claim you have never caught, or attempted to catch a mouse. I feel certain, your claim will be untruthful or carry no merit.

    If in fact you have caught, or attempted to catch, a mouse in a snap trap, you are no different than a hunter. Did you kill the mouse as a means of survival? Did you eat it or use the hide for warmth? I am quite certain you did not. You trapped and killed this poor helpless animal because he was a nuisance to you, and no other reason. THIS is certainly not being “respectful of nature” as you think man should be. In fact, you have needlessly killed as you say man should not do. You my friend, are a hypocrite. You could have crawled under you home and used a preventative measure to eliminate the mouse from being able to enter your home. You could have caulked holes and cracks. You could have doubled boards over gaps the mouse could squeeze into, yet you chose to disrespect nature and needlessly kill this mouse. Locating signs of the mouse, placing a trap, and baiting it with cheese is no different. Well actually, a hunters typically processes and eats its kill, and you merely discard the mouse carcass into the trash or into the nearby woods. Again, you did not kill this mouse for survival. But I am quite certain you will claim you have never had a mouse, therefore never had to trap one.

    And to go further, you claim on your walk into Waywayanda Forests of NJ/NY you were “picking up all the beer cans & gun shot shells the hunters left behind along with blown out bodies of guinie hens”…..exactly how do you know this was done by licensed hunters? Or are you assuming they were hunters? Just because there is a presence of shotgun shells and blown out bodies of animals, does not give you the right to claim they were licensed hunters. Persons other than hunters own guns and drink. By you posting this was done by hunters without having a factual basis to go by, indeed does make persons like yourself give hunters a bad rap. All on speculation is not justifiable.

    A black man robs a bank…..does that mean all black men are bank robbers? Someone drives a vehicle drunk and kills, maims, or destroys personal property…..does that mean everyone who drives is a bad person or driver?

    “If man would be more respectful of nature, he would not drive cars, he would not kill needlessly, and he would stop building unsustainably. Hopefully, in the future world man will change his ways so that life becomes more precious to him, even in the animal.”…….do you own a car? If you own and drive a car, again, another point to how and why you are a hypocrite. Practice what you preach. You are in fact sitting on the internet making pointless statements about “feeding deer corn” and “the game commission is educating us to protect the deer in the wild so they can be hunted”. It takes electricity to run the computer you are using to make these uneducated and pointless statements. Electricity comes from natural resources, or in this case “nature”, and you are not being respectful of that whatsoever just so you can browse the internet about “feeding corn to deer”. Practice what you preach and become more educated before you type.

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