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What Do Deer Eat?

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You see them digging around in your garden and know that they’re looking for food, but what do deer actually like to eat?

A Fallow Deer and a White-tailed DeerA fallow deer (Dama dama) and a white-tailed deer.

They are herbivores

Deer are herbivores and like twigs, grass, bark and shoots. They’ll also eat clover and green leaves, but have also been known to scavenge any other foodstuffs they can sniff out. Anyone with a vegetable garden will attest to how deer can be a nuisance, as they enjoy vegetables and leafy plants. It’s not just humans who like the look of a big garden plot full of carrots, cabbages and spinach, your allotment will look like a buffet table to your average deer.

Formulated deer food

You can buy specially formulated deer feed, but this is the equivalent of dog or cat kibble, really. Nutritionally complete, but boring and samey. Given the choice and the chance, they’ll have your crunchy, juicy veg any time. They’ll need to eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients they need, though, but that’s part of the fun.

Foods deer avoid to eat

Deer have their preferences, just like people. They also have less favorite food that they’ll turn to in harder times, like your garbage! It’s not ideal, but it’s food, after all.

Deer’s favorite meal

Deer prefer shrubs and woody plants, and can eat these all year long. Think of willow, sassafras, dewberry, blackberry, sumac rose and blackgum in particular. They’ll also eat wild grass if nothing else is out there, but this is desperation, and they’ll only eat the soft new shoots.

Variety of plants

Forbs, a perennial plant that dies in winter and comes back in spring is also popular; ragweed, wild lettuce, sedges, mushrooms, dandelions and sunflowers. Nuts provide deer with valuable protein, but are hard to come by, as this involves complicated foraging. They will go for hickory nuts, red acorns and beechnuts. If you’re concerned about your local deer in the winter months, leave out some nuts for them.

Large, green leaves

Particular favorites among many deer are rye grass, alfalfa, oats, clover, soybeans and wheat, so bear this in mind if you’re thinking of farming! Any vegetable with green leaves, the bigger the better, will be high on the list too.

In summer months

In the summer months, deer make the most of seasonal fruits like huckleberry, grapes, coralberry, blackberry and dewberry. These berries and their sugar content give the deer lots of energy, as well as lots of water to help them stay hydrated in the heat.

Now, you know what a deer eats

If you know what deer like to eat, and also what they like to avoid, then you can plan your garden or allotment properly. If on the other hand, you’re interested in deer and want to help an often struggling species, you can plant foods that will offer them nourishment all year round.

Large, deer family

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