What to Feed Deer Other Than Corn: Healthy Food For Deer!

Feeding deer can be an enjoyable experience for deer lovers. A lot of people are excited to get up close to white-tailed deer and feed these beautiful creatures, especially during times of food scarcity. This situation as we all know occurs mostly during the winter period. Is it ideal for people to feed deer?

For some reasons, it is not often advisable to feed deer frequently as this may discourage them from foraging on their own. It is also likely to disrupt their natural biology and even lead to the possibility of disease spreading among them. This is because rather than spread out as they do in the wild when foraging, they tend to congregate closer when being given supplementary food. But for those who take to hunting as a hobby, supplementary deer feeding is really important.

While corns are perceived as one of the most popular feed for deer, there are enough reasons you may need to feed them something else. Feeding deer a variety of feed which includes various sources of nutrients stimulates their natural environment which is awash with diverse food sources. This allows them to thrive better than just feeding them with corn most of the time.

This begs the question, what are the alternatives available? The answer to this question is that there are plenty of other options for feeding deer basically corn every time. These good alternatives provide better nutrient than corn (Smith et al., 2007). It should be noted that the supplementary feeding discussed in this book are not meant to fatten the deer. Instead, it is aimed at being more conservative. Supplementary feeding for deer is borne out of a need to provide them food in habitats that are diminished of food resources. This situation results in an inadequate amount of quality food for the deer.

Reasons To Embark On Deer Feeding

The essence of embarking on deer feeding is to provide supplementary feed for them especially during times when they are exposed to a very limited amount of food during foraging. This occurs mostly during the winter. There are enough reasons for people to engage in deer feeding if the practice doesn’t go against the law of the state you reside in. These include:


Baiting deer is primarily done to enhance potential viewing opportunities. People often engage in deer feeding in order for them to draw the deer closer so that they have close contact with these wonderful creatures (Synatzke, 1981).

This is especially true for those who are in the hobby of hunting game. Various researchers have pointed to supplementary feeding as an excellent way of improving the presence of deer especially in the southeastern states in the United States of America. There have been reports that indicate a higher possibility of hunting success as well as reduced kill distance in areas where individuals embark on supplementary feeding of deer (Synatzke, 1981).

Supplementary Nutrition During Stress Periods 

A good rationale for embarking on deer feeding is to provide supplemental feeding as a means to augment natural foraging during times when the deer are experiencing reduced nutritional contents in their habitat. Ruth and Derrell (2005), believe that supplemental nutrition helps the deer through a period of nutritional stress. Understanding this practice will often result in investigating the nutritional requirements of deer so that they can be provided with healthy feed.

Aesthetic Reasons

Some wildlife managers often focus on some of the reasons discussed above. However, some others embark on deer feeding for either cultural or aesthetic reasons. For instance, people that come in contact with emaciated and malnourished deer may be sympathetic to their cause and make attempts to provide a supplement for the deer to survive. This is out of the need to see them survive. The desire to provide supplemental feeding to deer so as to ensure their visibility cannot be underestimated (Johnson et al., 1993). But it is necessary to weigh the benefits and risks associated with deer feeding in order for you to be adequately informed before making your plan.

>> Further Reading: The Easiest Way on How to Make a Deer Feeder

Reasons Not To Feed Deer

Are there any reasons to not engage in providing supplementary feed for deer? Yes, because there are risks associated with deer feeding. Deer feeding increases the population of foraging deer to a particular location where the supplementary feed is being provided. This situation often discourages dispersed foraging which is the natural attitude of the deer herd, and it increases the possibility of disease transmission among a large number of deer. Too much concentration of deer around a feed site might increase the occurrence of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) also known as the blue tongue (Clauss et al., 2003).

There is also the possibility of other non-targeted species foraging to the feed site. It is common to see wild pigs, raccoons and opposes closely moving behind the deer herd in order to the pest of the supplemental feed provided for the deer. There is also the possibility of rats and mice scattering the feeds and also consuming the feed. The feeders may also be damaged by these pests and can lead to an increase in the prevalence of the disease among deer population.

Similarly, it is possible for predatory animals to trace the deer to the feed site; increasing the probability of human contact with grey foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, black bears, etc. This poses a serious threat to game hunters, thus you should care in advance about an appropriate deer feeder.

Regulations For Feeding Deer

deer feeding

Source: trophybuckhunting.blogspot.com

We understand that you are just being passionate about feeding these wonderful creatures, but deer feeding is not just an exercise that is done haphazardly. If you want to embark on it at all, it is better you do it right. This is because your seemingly harmless action goes a long way in determining the survival and development of these deer. Also, note that feeding deer with supplements is more likely to attract a significantly large number of herds thronging your abode. Congregating deer can also attract other wild animals. There are strict regulations that follow the exercise of supplemental deer feeding. It is really important for game hunters to be aware of these regulations. The government stipulated that no individual is allowed to give supplementary deer feed:

  • In quantities above 2 gallons for an owner-occupied residence regardless of the size of the property
  • More than 50 yards from an occupied residence
  • Within a hundred yards to a motorway with a posted speed limit of 45 mph and above
  • Without approval from the owner or occupier of the residence
  • At any deer feeding site that is known to have a significant population of bear or elk
  • In any county that prohibits feeding deer.

What To Feed Deer

Since you are now conversant with the don’ts of feeding deer, it is essential to understand some other issues pertaining to deer feeding. What do I feed deer with?

There is an age-old practice of feeding deer corn. This practice is borne out of the cereal’s relatively cheaper cost, combined with the fact that deer love it. But is this practice ideal. Experts have found out that the mineral content of corn lower than other feed grains. The MSU DeerLab asserts that the best protein content for healthy deer development should be around 16% protein.

Unfortunately, corn feed only has 9% protein at most which fall short of the required level of protein needed for healthy deer development. This is not to say that feeding deer corn is totally bad. Corn can be added to a range of other supplements since deer love it. There is a wide range of nuts, fruits, twigs and grass that provide carbohydrate as well as protein. So whenever you are thinking of what to feed deer, you should not forget this.

The following information on feed types should be considered:


Oats are preferably the most protein-rich feed for deer. This is because oats provide deer with a very balanced ration of fiber and carbohydrates. Oats also contain a better protein content of 12% and is easily digestible by deer. According to the Michigan DNR, in the absence of formulated deer mixtures, oats are the most preferred for supplementary deer feeding.

>> Further Reading: When To Plant Buck Forage Oats: What You Need To Know For Healthy Deer


It is always good that you mix soybeans with other types of feed because of the high fat and protein content of the grain. Soybeans contain close to 40% protein, so it can easily be mixed with corn for the deer so as to increase the total protein intake of the deer. An equal mixture of corn and soybeans is ok, but if you want something better for the deer, limiting the corn to 25% is ideal.


Alfalfa bale is another common source of supplementary deer feed. It should be noted that alfalfa is a better alternative to corn. This is because alfalfa is easily digestible like oats and has a relatively high protein content of between 15% and 20% depending on the cut. Unfortunately, alfalfa does not come very cheap so you might have to show a little generosity to the deer if you want to provide alfalfa for the deer.

Rice Bran

While rice bran does not offer excellent protein content, the grain is relatively more preferable to corn since its protein content (12%) is higher than that of the corn. However, rice bran should be used as part of a feed mix and not all by itself.

Creep Feed And Formulated Food Mixes

Creep feed is used by farmers to provide balanced supplemental nutrition for deer calves. Creep feed is always a mixture of corn, oats, alfalfa, soybeans and other minerals. In the event that you decide on trying these creep feed, it is recommended that the variant should contain at least 15% protein content. Formulated feed mix is the best option for providing supplementary feeding for deer.

Corn And Hay

Feeding deer any of the corn and hay exclusively is not ideal for the development of the deer. Corn diet for deer as a high starch content which can cause the deer to have high acidity in the rumen and this destroys the micro-organisms that are needed for food digestion. Hay on the other hand, when given to deer, decreases their rumen activities while also reducing the fermentation of fiber. The fiber content found is hay is not easily digestible, making the deer die of starvation although they had plenty of food in their stomachs.


Clauss, M., Streich, W.J., and Lechner-Doll, M., (2003). “Ruminant Diversification: An Adaptation to The physiochemical Characteristics of Foraging. A re-evaluation of an old debate and a new hypothesis”. Oikos 102, 253-262.

Johnson, Mark K., and K.D. Dancak. (1993). “Effect of food plots on white-tailed deer in Kisatchie National Forest”. Journal of Range Management, 46:110-114.

Ruth, C., Jr, and Derrell A. Shipes. (2005). The Potential effect on regional white-tailed deer harvest-rates in the South-Carolina: A state with conflicting bait laws. An Annual Meeting, Southeast Deer Study Group 28:18.

Smith, Jason R., Richard A. Sweitzer, and William F. (2007). Movements, Diets, and Consequences of providing wildlife food ration for white-tailed deer in Central North Dakota. Journal of Wildlife Management. 71:2719-2726.

Synatzke, D. R. 1981. Effects of baiting on white-tailed deer hunting success. Job 37 W-109R4.

2 thoughts on “What to Feed Deer Other Than Corn: Healthy Food For Deer!”

  1. My father bought a cabin to spend the winter and have the family over for the holidays, and he wants to attract deer to the property so the kids can see them when we visit. It’s good to know that besides corn, one can also feed the animals rise brand, and mixing both foods could benefit the deer. I will let him know to find a grain supplier so he can get a few things that the deers will like to eat and tract them to his cabin.


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