How many times have we heard many out there on social media that they “heard it from a friend’s friend who said that” or “my friend is a biologist and they said”. Many times these small quips can be misunderstood by the listener and it becomes scripture. With the speed of social media, many things can be taken out of context just by reading only a few lines or even just the headline. Just like listening we must read the entire story.
Is corn safe and nutritional to feed deer? The simple answer to the question is yes and no. Simple right? Corn can be a deer’s worst enemy and cause death if fed improperly. What do I mean by improperly? Deer are browsing animals and eat a wide variety of food sources. When a new food source is introduced to them it takes time for their stomachs to adjust (this also includes deer pellets). Introducing corn to a deer in the middle of winter when food sources become scarce will cause a hungry deer to over eat causing their stomachs to bloat and or they get what is called Acidosis. Both of these are very damaging to a deer and oftentimes cause their death.
Another misconception I want to touch on is that corn provides absolutely no nutritional value to deer. With what I have already talked about acidosis everyone gets a negative idea of what corn can do to a deer. If corn is used as described below it can also be beneficial as a supplemental feed. Corn is high in starch and is a good source of energy. Although corn has a poor mineral profile it does contain about 9% protein. Yes, this is a lower level of protein than what deer need on an average basis but is also good to remember that it’s an addition to what deer are already grazing on. If our wild deer only ate (like pen deer) the corn provided it would only give them a diet of less than 10% protein which will result in inferior animals and poor antler development. Deer need a daily diet of 12% to 16% protein for optimum development of bone and muscle.
If you’re going to use corn to feed deer you must always remember it must be a supplement and not a primary feed source. Acidosis can occur very quickly in a deer, many times within 24-72 hours of ingestion. Again this is why it is important to emphasize properly introducing deer to corn. The springtime frame is always the best time if you’re going to start supplementing a deer’s feed source with corn. Try not to use the bulk pile on the ground method at first when you start. Find yourself an inexpensive distribution broadcast feeder. Using this method it’s easier to control the use of corn and how much you use. When I start my feeder I always set them to two-second spins at a higher power for about 2-3 weeks. This has multiple benefits. It limits the amount of corn that you are broadcasting, the area distance it's broadcasting and at the same time, it saves on corn until they start consuming. Increase your broadcast times as you start to see an increase in traffic to your feeding site.
When do I stop feeding deer? We have always stopped feeding around mid-December. This time will vary depending on where you are from and the natural food sources available. For us, it’s a perfect time to stop because the deer will start to move to their normal winter grazing habits and this also helps reduce the chances that deer form a dependency on our feed sites. Another good rule of thumb we use is typically 2-3 weeks after the last corn fields in the area are cut. We stop the same way we started. We start to limit spin times on our broadcast feeders slowly weening the deer off of our provided food sources.