What to Feed Deer in Your Backyard. Healthy Options

what to feed deer in the backyard

Seeing a deer in the wild is always an incredible experience. We will tell you what are the top safe and healthy options that will keep deer around and well fed in your backyard.

If you’d like to bring them home, you must know what to feed deer in your backyard to entice them to visit.

There are several reasons to feed deer, whether you are a nature enthusiast or a big game hunter. Deer are large animals that require a lot of food. Deer attract all kinds of other animals. Thus feeding and attracting wild deer is the first step if you want to experience authentic outdoor living from the comfort of your garden.

Deer may eat a wide range of plants, including:

  • Acorns
  • Soybeans
  • Oats
  • Turnips
  • Alfalfa or hay (Warning: Do not feed during the winter)

Deer enjoy newly grown plants, so plant these legumes and veggies for the deer to eat if you want to boost your chances of seeing deer and help the herd develop.

One of the most significant periods to plant is in the fall and winter when there is less foliage in the surrounding area for them to graze on.

Deer have a voracious appetite and are creatures of habit. Those are the primary considerations to keep in mind before inviting them to your home.

The first step is understanding how deer see the world and what they need to get out of it to make the most of their resources.

What to feed deer in your backyard?

If you’re wondering can you feed your backyard deer, there are a variety of deer meal mixtures available that will save you time and space by eliminating the need to produce fresh plants.

Deer feeders are an excellent method to start supplemental food for your local herd if you have a small backyard or planting area.

Deer feeders are divided into two categories: spincast and free choice.

You could be tempted to buy one or the other depending on your preferences, even if they both can provide the same amount of your favorite deer food every day. A spincast feeder differs because it allows you to choose how much food should be dispersed that day.

Pellets, manufactured with a deer’s complete body nutrition in mind, are the ideal meal for deer feeders.

Suppose you only supply deer pellets specifically designed for deer. In that case, you won’t have to worry about mistakenly giving them anything that isn’t beneficial for them or might induce a terrible case of indigestion.

Deer may take a few days to discover the pellets are a source of food rather than a strange human toy. Still, if you also put oats or other cereal grains in the feeder, they will eat up an entire mouthful and rapidly recognize the pellets are a pleasant supply of much-needed nutrients and energy.

Can I feed deer in my backyard?

There’s no reason why you can’t feed deer in your backyard, depending on the size and type of fencing you have in place.

Deer will need a route into your yard to get to the food, so be sure that if you have a fence, it has a hole big enough for even a beefed-up buck to get through without having to squeeze.

It’s important to remember that feeding deer in your garden isn’t the same as visiting a petting zoo.

These deer will be wild and have never been exposed to humans.

You’ll need to place the food in vast, deserted areas where the deer may come and feed without being startled by your abrupt appearance.

Petting them while they’re eating isn’t a good idea. (We know it’s a pain, but they may murder you, which would be far worse!)

In addition to accounting for the deer’s presence, you’ll need to position various feeders across your property strategically.

On average, one feeder should be used for every 20-30 deer you plan to feed.

If you’re using feeders instead of troughs, make sure they have broad holes to accommodate growing antlers.

Antlers on a backyard deer
Deer may go the further distance to come and inspect your garden for food because of those antlers.

Prepare to increase the quantity of food available in the winter when other food sources are scarce. In the summer, when the deer’s antlers are developing, they require additional nourishment to maintain that growth.

Low cost deer feeding

Even the tiniest deer species would outeat most people in an eating contest. Every day, the average whitetail deer consumes about five pounds of food.

Although you are not required to provide all of that food, if you want your backyard to attract deer regularly, you will most likely need to spend a significant amount of money to keep them happy.

However, buying deer feed and the feeders that go with it will almost certainly be more expensive than just cultivating your natural crops.

You can purchase seeds and start plants at a reasonable price. Gardening is the cheapest way to feed deer if you are prepared to put in the time and effort to tend to crops that you know are deer food.

You can buy seed for a fraction of the cost to start your own backyard deer feed plot and have the fresh foliage they need blooming in no time.

You may also buy huge quantities from a local farmer’s market or grocery store if you don’t have the space or soil required for a strong crop.

Even in quantity, the majority of the veggies are reasonably priced. On the other hand, a basket of turnips will not go you very far, so bring a truck or trailer to transport large bales of hay or alfalfa home.

If you already have trees on your property, you may have a cheap option to feed deer right in your backyard.

Deer may have been fantasizing about feeding on your maple branches or red oak twigs for a long time, depending on the tree type. It’s hard to imagine deer enjoy eating bark, but they do.

Should you feed deer in your backyard?

In theory, nature should provide enough supplies required to maintain a healthy deer population. Then the ethical debate centers around if we should feed deer if that is the case.

If you feed a local herd of deer consistently over the winter, you provide them with the nutrition they require to produce more offspring in the spring.

When the heat necessitates more nutrients and the antler-growing season approaches in the summer, more deer will have plenty to eat. If there are too many deer, they will rapidly overrun the region’s natural food and water supplies, causing the ecology to become unbalanced.

Natural predators like coyotes and bears may be drawn to the region in more significant numbers.

If you’re a hunter looking to attract such a game with a rising deer population, you’ll almost certainly succeed. Still, you’ll have to be cautious not to deplete the food supplies of other grazing animals and further disrupt the ecology that nature has formed in your area.

If you reside in a region where deer hunting is popular, feeding them is not a bad idea.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ethics of hunting for sport vs. hunting for food. Still, the truth is that many states and provinces are required to issue a specific number of hunting permits each year to reduce big deer populations that are out of control. Keep this in mind while you’re deciding whether or not to feed the deer.

Pros and Cons of Feeding Deer

We feel that there are relatively few black-and-white issues. Most people choose to live in the gray area’s peaceful, although occasionally hazy, middle ground. It’s no different when it comes to feeding deer.

We’d be negligent if we didn’t go more into this subject to assist you to prevent any unpleasant shocks down the line. It’s not as simple as opening the gate and expecting them to appear.

Let’s start with the pro-deer side of the debate.

Benefits of Encouraging Deer to Come to Your Yard

The main benefit of feeding deer is that it brings you closer to nature. It’s a fantastic learning experience for both you and your kids.

It sparks a slew of educational debates, including:

  • Relationships between predators and prey
  • Conflicts between humans and animals
  • Lifestyles of herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores
  • Doe-fawns behavior
  • Survival in the winter

Regardless of your feelings on deer, seeing one up and personal is an unforgettable experience. It’s as if you’ve been transported from today’s bustle to somewhere far distant from it all. Priceless.

If you’re a hunter, the additional advantages are apparent. You’re bringing wildlife to your land to make hunting simpler on a variety of levels. Some states will let you take deer from your property without having to go through all of the legal hoops that regular hunting requires. That will save you money and allow you to store food in the freezer.

As a hunter, feeding deer has several advantages. You can study the creatures’ behaviors to improve your chances of catching them. You’ll be able to study them, especially if they’ve lost some of their natural apprehension. When you’re ready with your pistol loaded and cocked, you’ll know what they eat, where they hang out, and when they’re likely to be around.

It also aids in the removal of certain natural obstacles that may prevent deer from crossing your property. They learn by trial and error that your land is a haven with food and water.

Even if you don’t hunt, you may still generate money by leasing your land to others. You win in either case.

Disadvantages of Deer on Your Property

With deer, it’s not all daisies and buttercups. The most obvious disadvantage is that you have no method of forcing them to consume what you desire. Tulips, hostas, and rose bushes will appeal to them just as much as the delicacies you put out just for them.

No matter what time of year it is, deer are ravenous eaters. You can grow things that are used to keep deer away. On the other hand, a hungry animal is desperate and will widen its taste to consume foods it would typically shun.

As a result, deer-deterrent is merely a recommendation.

You must also consider the indirect consequences of feeding deer, which are equally solid reasons to refrain from doing so. One of them is an increased risk of Lyme illness. However, deer have several health issues that you should consider before bringing them into your house.

They include:

  • Plague
  • Mange
  • Giardiasis
  • E. coli

Feeding deer a well-balanced diet, on the other hand, goes a long way toward keeping them healthy and lowering your chance of becoming sick. That is why we recommend a wide range of meals.

You should also examine another reasonable argument: deer-human confrontations, notably vehicle crashes. The figures are depressing. In 2018, approximately 2 million animal-vehicle incidents occurred, with each occurrence costing an average of $3,560. The Midwest states are the states with the greatest danger.

Feeding deer alleviates part of their inherent apprehension about humans and all things human. Remember that deer have become so common due to them avoiding and then adapting to our presence. When that aspect is removed, others aren’t far behind.

The goal is to balance the benefits of having these attractive and versatile creatures close to your house and the hazards of having them close by.

Knowing the disadvantages might help you avoid traps that could ruin the experience for you and your family.

How to attract deer to your backyard

Let’s see what to feed deer in the backyard now that you’ve assessed the pros and drawbacks and made your selection.

Deer may discover your home before you put out the welcome mat. Examine the ends of branches and twigs to see whether they’ve been nibbling on your plants.

Bottom incisors are absent in deer. The margins are frequently ragged when they eat on a plant, unlike rabbits, who leave a smooth cut.

Other indications, including animal footprints, scraped sections of bare earth, and scratch marks on smaller trees, may also be seen. The final two are signs of a buck that has made your property part of its territory during mating season.

The best method to attract deer is to offer them foods they enjoy, a steady supply of water, and shelter where they can rest and avoid predators. They are clever creatures that will quickly understand your household’s habits as well as your family’s activity patterns.

What foods will attract deer?

If you don’t want to rely on deer feed, this section is for you and would rather know the specific substances involved.

What do deer eat? There are two major groups to address this question: veggies and legumes. Deer will be attracted to a considerable number of one or both groups since they require consistent food sources.

Foraging for individual tree branches is also a favorite pastime of deer.

Deer love nibbling on bigger branches and digesting smaller ones, even though humans don’t think of tree bark as being especially simple to eat or digest. The following are the best tree twigs for deer:

  • Birch trees, both white and yellow
  • Hazel is a kind of witchcraft.
  • Oak (Red)
  • Hazel with a beak
  • Maple from the mountains
  • Maple with stripes

Another technique to ensure that the food you put out will attract deer is to place it near or on your property where there is a water supply.

Water is more important to animals than food. Therefore you can be sure that if there are deer in the vicinity, they will be frequenting the adjacent watering holes. You can lure them with food just because it is convenient.

Can deer eat carrots?

Feeding deer carrots is not toxic or detrimental, but it should not be the sole food source for a herd of deer.

Another way, carrots are a tasty treat that many different deer species appreciate, but they are low in nutritional content. They cannot replace the other vegetables and legumes that make up most of a deer’s diet.

Carrots are top on the list of deer favorites, but you should think of them as a form of deer candy.

Small quantities are OK for luring deer to your yard, but they aren’t suitable for a complete meal. Carrots in tiny amounts might be a fantastic way to thank the deer for feeding in your yard.

Can deer eat bread?

Bread, like maize, sometimes includes elements that are too heavy in starch for a deer to digest easily. The carbohydrate content of wheat and barley can cause everything from mild indigestion to death, depending on how much a deer eats.

The act of feeding bread to a herd of deer can be lethal to all of them.

What Kinds of Food Should You Avoid Feeding Deer?

Deer should not be given wheat, barley, or maize.

Unfortunately, deer are not intelligent enough to avoid eating foods that are particularly harmful to them. Because a deer’s stomach cannot absorb and break down those starches, the high starch content in specific diets might kill them. In the winter, when there isn’t much else to eat, deer may mistakenly ingest them.

Some items, such as hay and alfalfa, should never be fed to deer, while others, such as hay and alfalfa, should be given with caution.

Deer starving or eating lesser rations due to the hard winter climate may have difficulty digesting the hay, and their tummies may rebel. This is because hay expands significantly in the stomach.

Chronic wasting illness is a deadly disease that affects particular deer populations.

It is spread from one sick deer to another by urine, feces, blood, and saliva, although it was first introduced through contaminated food or water supplies. Always be cautious about what you give deer or what you plant for them to consume.

It can be challenging to limit the spread of chronic wasting illness if a herd member catches it.

The disease is infectious before symptoms occur, and it takes over a year for an infected deer to develop signs including significant and rapid weight loss and trouble walking.

What can you feed deer instead of corn?

In general, deer should be fed cereal grains such as oats instead of maize.

In addition to manufactured deer food, they lack the high starch content that makes corn so difficult for a deer’s stomach to consume and may readily fill your troughs or other deer feeders. In reality, oats are likely already present in those deer meal pellets.

Maize is a complex problem since deer herds that reside in places where corn is widely produced and it is available as a food source throughout the year may ingest it without harm. The stomach of a deer is highly adaptable, and it can produce the acids required to break down the high starch content over a year.

When feeding a deer in your backyard, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and you should avoid maize if you have the chance.

Deer corn is one alternative that many people consider. Deer corn is a specifically designed maize with a high carbohydrate and fat content that can provide a decent energy boost for deer over the long winter ahead.

Plants that deer eat

To create a nutritious diet, we recommend purchasing a range of vegetables. It aids the deer and, as previously said, maintains them healthy. It also allows you to customize your landscaping to meet your specific needs and desires.

Perennial plants and trees are ideal. They’ll keep providing food year after year to entice people to come back. They’re also better at dealing with the stress of deer feeding on them.

Consider the following trees:

  • Apple
  • Willow
  • Crabapple
  • Oaks
  • Cedar
  • Hawthorn
  • Dogwood
  • Yew

The last one brings up a fascinating tidbit about deer. While yew and poison ivy are poisonous to humans, they are not toxic to deer. It has something to do with their differing digestive systems.

Shrubs can also be used to entice them. Deer frequently consume the buds of these plants because they contain the essential nutrients. When other foods are sparse, it’s a good source of winter nourishment.

Deer prefer the following shrubs:

  • Arborvitae
  • Azalea
  • Holly
  • Euonymus
  • Rhododendron
  • Blueberry

Other vegetation is also on the menu to keep a hungry deer satisfied.

You can look into the following options:

  • Sweet clover
  • Vetch
  • Alfalfa
  • Strawberry
  • English ivy
  • Ferns

As you can see, Deer are not picky eaters and will consume a wide variety of vegetation. Your following question can be about how to cultivate them.

What not to feed deer

  • Corn. If you want to feed the deer in your region, please don’t rely solely on corn. Corn is highly acidic, killing the bacteria that deer require to digest their meal.
  • Hay. It is one of the vegetables that deer despise, as strange as it may sound. They are incapable of processing or digesting hay in any form. Deer have perished from starvation while still carrying hay in their stomachs because they can’t pass it.
  • Human food or table scraps. It might be appealing or a means to get rid of your garbage. But keep in mind that deer are not the same as cows or pigs. They are unable to digest scraps.
  • Animal Remains. You should never offer them meat or leftovers from your table that contain other animal products. Always keep in mind what deer prefer to eat in the wild. This isn’t the case!

Providing Other Food for Deer

We’ve discussed plants, but now it’s time to face the elephant in the room: food. After all, you set out a bird feeder for the songbirds, and deer may occasionally stand on their hind legs to eat the seeds.

There are various aspects to consider when deciding whether or not purchasing a deer feeder is a good idea. First and foremost, there is the question of legality. For the reasons we outlined previously, several communities frown on it.

In addition, several states have strict rules on what you may and cannot feed deer. It might also change from year to year. Feeding is permitted in some regions during cold winters when the risk of a winter kill is high.

The other factor to consider is hunting. If you or someone else hunts deer on your property, you may be breaking game rules by baiting them.

The Problem With Corn

Then there’s the question of what you’ll provide them. Why not feed them deer grain, as one of your first ideas could be. It’s inexpensive and straightforward to use. That option has several drawbacks.
Apart from not being the best choice for deer as the primary food, especially in the winte0, the problem resides in the nutritional content.

Deer accumulate fat stores throughout the year to help them get through the leaner months. Because there isn’t much greenery around, they eat buds and twigs. It’s a fantastic food source because it’s high in nutrients, as we indicated. Cracked maize, for example, is mainly made up of starch, accounting for around 70% of the total. When utilized in winter feeding, they are also fermentable and might induce bloating.

The woody plants give some carbohydrates and essential fiber to keep the deer’s GI tract in good working order. Corn, on the other hand, can upset their stomachs and lead to a disease called acidosis. This results in an acidic environment, which can kill good bacteria and induce gastrointestinal irritation. The combination of excessive water loss and challenging living circumstances created the ideal storm for ill deer.

Other grounds against it might include the possibility of attracting rats and other pests. You might want the deer, but you don’t want the raccoons and possums who might follow the smell.

Deer foods that are carefully prepared to prevent fermentable carbohydrates like maize are available. However, you must factor in the cost and effort required to ensure that the troughs are filled. Feeding deer, like feeding birds, is a long-term commitment. Deer will rely on this food supply and will forego foraging to find something to eat.

In the spring and summer, this may not be an issue, but it can be devastating in the winter. It might also be argued that feeding deer makes them sluggish and less aware of their surroundings, making it more difficult for them to discover abundant food sources.

As a result, while the concept of supplementary feeding is admirable, the hazards are just too significant. To keep the deer nourished, we recommend keeping to nature’s pantry of nourishing vegetation.

Other things that deer need

You’ll have deer if you can make your yard a one-stop-shop for all of their needs. However, they require other items to be happy and healthy.

A fantastic addition to your deer landscaping is a mineral or salt block. It contains vital nutrients, such as salt. They may not use it all year, but they will indeed utilize it in the winter.

Deer, as previously said, establish habits. They are also sophisticated creatures who dislike change and variation in their environment. That is one of the factors that has allowed them to survive and develop.

For you, this means they require a haven where people do not wander to relax in peace and not be on high alert. Children and pets should be kept out of the area where they forage, obtain a drink, and sleep.

Planning Your Deer Landscaping

You should ideally have a plot of land where you can grow these options and then leave fallow. It’s not like you have to care for it in the same way you would a conventional garden. With their foraging, the deer are taking care of that end.

If you keep track of what survives year after year, you’ll be able to tell which plants the deer prefer to avoid. Then you may add in their personal favorites.

Leave plants and trees to give shelter for the deer as well. Unfortunately, you’re still an adversary in their eyes, so they’ll need somewhere to hide. On a more positive note, you may check off two boxes with one task by giving shelter.

When deer’s nutrition isn’t enough to keep them hydrated, they need a regular water source. You can clear a route to the coast for them if you live near a stream or pond.

Deer, like other species, try to preserve as much energy as possible. Whenever possible, they will follow the path of least resistance.

That’s why the woods have so many well-used runs. It takes less energy to travel down a well-worn route than it does to bushwhack and create one from scratch. It also explains why you’ll find deer meandering down hiking routes and around woodland margins.

If you don’t have access to water, a water feature can be added to your landscaping. A pond containing koi and goldfish won’t bother the deer. A horse trough or a birdbath will suffice. However, we recommend installing a heater in it during the winter so that kids can use it all year.

Deer and Fences

You might be shocked to hear that a fence isn’t as effective as you assume in deterring deer. An animal may jump across it as long as it is less than 6 feet high.

That is reserved for grownups.

We recommend leaving a 1.5-foot space at the bottom of the fence so that a fawn born on the wrong side can fit through. There will be enough for the doe as well.

Tips for Encouraging Deer on Your Land

There are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of the experience when feeding deer.

  • Deer congregate in herds, so you’re unlikely to see just one in your yard.
  • Deer will eat saplings and young plants until they have established themselves and supply a decent food source.
  • Before you begin, double-check with your city and the state DNR to ensure that feeding is legal in your region.
  • Find out if you’re allowed to hunt on your property if you’re feeding deer and giving a mineral lick.
  • Notify your neighbors, particularly if they have pets.
  • In the winter, don’t suddenly stop feeding the deer.
  • Plantings of invasive species, such as goldenrod, should be avoided since they will take over an area and drive out other plants, diminishing the nutritional value of your landscape.

Remember to install a trail camera! After all, you’ve drawn the deer to your yard, but even if you’re trying to be gentle with your supplemental feeding program, they’re still likely to be wary.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying that witnessing and, even better, interacting with a deer in the wild is a once-in-a-lifetime event. They are beautiful creatures deserving of admiration for having survived decades of human predation and invasion.

If you learn how to feed deer in your backyard, you will have the opportunity to see them close, and it’s the ultimate kind of retribution for all the joy they may provide to your life. A crucial element of the process is balancing the rewards and drawbacks.

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Emma Olsen
I’m a gardener and blogger with over 20 years of expertise writing about and cultivating fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. I have extensive experience in organic and sustainable gardening, perennials, annuals, and sustainable and urban farming. I’m a nature freak and I enjoy bird watching and swimming with sea creatures.