Want to help wild deer survive the harsh winter? Don’t feed them!
During fall, a deer’s digestive system slowly changes to have a perfect combination of microbes and enzymes to digest its winter diet, which is mostly low-calorie woody vegetation. This amazing adaptation enables deer to survive long, lean winters with very little fresh food.
When suddenly fed supplemental foods like fruit and corn, the deer’s winter-adapted digestive system simply can’t adapt fast enough to properly digest these foods, and it will quickly succumb to acidosis, similar to what people with diabetes experience.
Some particularly healthy deer might survive being fed during winter, only to die later. Foods given by humans will disrupt the sensitive balance of the deer’s digestive system, making it unable to digest its normal winter diet, so it may die very slowly after several weeks of being unable to thrive on its ordinary winter staples. It may become weak, slow, or confused, or may suffer from bone deformities, or may grow skeletal and die of starvation.
Feeding deer can also encourage them to congregate unnaturally in one small area and to share a lot of germs, including those responsible for chronic wasting disease. Your good intentions could create ground zero for an epidemic!
Please don’t contribute to this problem. Enjoy your deer neighbors this winter without giving into the urge to “help” by feeding them.