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What do deer eat?

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These herbivores have a diverse diet, and their eating habits depend on the season, their geographical location, and the availability of food. In this article, we will explore what deer eat, their favorite treats, and what they eat in the wild.

As deer farmers, we can answer your questions on what food is safe to feed to the deer.

What do deer normally eat? 

Generally, when it comes to what plants do deer eat in the wild, deer are pretty much down for plant-based anything. And by "anything," I mean anything - just ask any gardener who's had their carefully cultivated plants reduced to nubs by these voracious herbivores. If you're a gardener, you know the struggle is real. Those 🦌🦌 are more than happy to nibble on your prize-winning roses, your fresh veggies, and pretty much anything else you've got growing. It's like they're thinking, "Oh, what's that? Looks tasty. nibble nibble Oh, and that too? nibble nibble Don't mind if I do."

happy deer in the meadow

Here are some of the main categories of food that deer normally eat:

  1. Leaves and shoots: Deer browse on the leaves and shoots of trees and shrubs, including maple, oak, willow, and dogwood.
  2. Grasses: Deer feed on a variety of grasses, including tall prairie grasses, bluegrass, and fescue.
  3. Twigs and branches: In the winter, when other food sources are scarce, deer will strip the bark from twigs and small branches to access the inner layer of the tree.
  4. Nuts and acorns: Deer love to eat nuts and acorns, including those from oak, hickory, and beech trees.
  5. Fruits and berries: Apples, pears, blackberries, and blueberries are just a few of the fruits and berries that deer enjoy.
  6. Legumes: Deer will graze on legumes such as clover, alfalfa, and soybeans.
  7. Forbs and wildflowers: Forbs are non-woody plants that are typically found in open fields or meadows. Deer will eat a variety of forbs and wildflowers, including dandelions, goldenrod, and asters.

Overall, deer are opportunistic eaters and will consume whatever plant-based foods are available to them depending on the season and their geographical location. A muntjac deer, for example, can eat up to 85 different types of plants [source].

Did you know that deer can pack away up to two pounds of dry food for every 100 pounds of their own weight in a single day? And that's just the average - nursing mamas will often need to take in even more grub to keep their milk production up. These graceful creatures might seem dainty, but they've got some serious appetites!

According to Mississippi State University, white-tailed deer's salivary glands produce enzymes that help deactivate secondary plant compounds, (tannins), that disrupt digestion. These enzymes allow them to eat a quantity of acorns that would kill a cow.

What do deer eat in the summer?

In the summer, deer have a diverse range of food options available to them.

They typically feed on plants including clover, wildflowers, corn, soybeans, rye, alfalfa, berries, legumes and a whole bunch more. But you know what else they like to munch on? Apples, crab apples, plum bushes, and even some shrooms. Basically, if it's within reach, they'll probably give it a taste.

What do deer eat in winter?

Food is significantly harder to find in winter, so deer become reliant on buds, saplings, woody plants, including evergreens, bark and dried leaves.

deer in winter

Photo by Jill Wellington

That's not much and wild deer do lose weight in winter, up to 30% of their body mass, that's why they try to gain as much as possible in warmer months.

panicum deer grass in winter

One of the winter food sources for deer is Panicum virgatum. Photo: https://gardeningmd.com/

If the herd is lucky to be in the area where unsuspecting farmers have planted their crops, they will also invite themselves to feast on agricultural crops like wheat, rye, or soybeans.

According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, based on thousands of observations from deer wintering areas in New York State, winter deer food favorites are:

What do deer like to eat the most?

One question if what deer can eat and another - what they prefer if they have a choice. What treats do deer like to eat?

Deer love to eat berries, acorns, nuts, corn, fruits like bananas, peaches and pears, carrots and bread. A lot of their favorite picks you'll find in the list below. All such yummies come with a warning though, while feeding tree branches or oats is totaly safe, basically anything deer wouldn't normally find in the woods - isn't safe in big quantities. Please see considerations about feeding deer.

What do deer prefer

Deer given choice of food: corn, lemon, orange, carrot or pumpkin. What do they eat first? What is deer's preferred meal?

Do deer eat meat, small animals?

Deer are mainly all about that veggie life, but every once in a while they go rogue and get a little meaty. I mean, we're talking super rare occasions here, usually when they're feeling pretty desperate for a snack. It's been known to happen that a deer might chow down on a bird, rodent, or even a fish - but that's not exactly their go-to meal. I guess you could say they're not really big fans of the whole "meat and greet" thing. We have a post dedicated to this question titled Are Deer Herbivores, Omnivores or Carnivores

Should you feed wild deer?

If you've landed here searching for «what do deer like to eat», you're likely thinking of feeding deer in your backyard. In that case, keep in mind that depending on where you live it may be illegal for you to do that.

Winter is a challenging time for deer, and a nature's way of culling the weaker herd members. (( As heartbreaking as that may be, supplemental feeding of them presents its own set of problems and according to many reputable sources can do more harm than good. Such as:

deer near humans in winter

Photo by Snapwire

If you want to help deer survive winter:

You can do this by creating and maintaining good quality deer habitat and improving food resources that will actually benefit all wildlife.

If you can't resist feeding deer, follow these guidelines:

What is the best food to feed deer?

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You can search through this following list of foods to see if deer might enjoy it [to be continued]:

Do deer eat berries?

🦌: "Oh deer god, please send us some!"

berries for deeries

Berries of all kinds are deers favorite food. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, grapes - all are highly appreciated by these gourmets. Berries are packed with minerals and vitamins, acids and sugar and so are perfectly fitted as deer feed. Not that you'd want to share a lot with them, would you?

Do deer eat cabbage?

Deer: "If there's nothing better"

They will eat it, but are not too excited about it. And can you blame them?

Do deer eat cheese?


Some 🦌 apparently do, but should they - that's another question.

Even 1 or 2 year old deer have been spotted sneaking in and drinking milk from the utter of a doe who's feeding her fawn. These are grown animals who have long been weaned. Clearly, they must be perfectly capable to still digest it.

Cow's milk is somewhat similar but goat's milk is more so. With cheese, deer might additionally be attracted to salt content inside.

Still, Junkie spat it out: "No thanks, I'm on a diet".

Can deer eat chicken feed?

🦌: "What's in it?"

dietary choices

Deer are herbivores, best accustomed to eating plant based food, while chiken are omnivores, capable of eating both plant and animal products. What is your chicken feed made of? Read the label and if it's not all vegan, it's likely not a good idea to feed deer that. They might eat it, but will it agree with their digestive system - no one can say.

Can deer eat corn?

Deer: "Would sell our souls for it!"

deer licking off maize

Deer love maize, but it presents danger when consumed in big quantities by animals not accustomed to it.

Do deer eat dill?

Deer: "Yuck!"

This is one of the few things deer tend to avoid.

Will deer eat dog food?

🦌: "You gotta be kidding me!"

suspicious deer

Seriously, dogs are omnivores (evolved from carnivores), even the cheapest dog food contains (hopefully, for dogs sake) some meat. You shouldn't try and feed herbivores meat products.

Do deer appreciate garlic?

Deer: "We're not fans!"

This is one of the few things deer tend to avoid. But our deer have on a rare occasion been spotted eating toasts with some garlic rubbed into them. So it's not a deer repellent, in case you were wondering. Might protect you against vampires, but not your garden from deer.

Will deer gobble up melons?

🦌: "Just put them down and step away!"

You'll make them very happy if you share your melon, even scraps with deer.

How do deer feel about nuts?

Deer: "We go nuts over them!"

Deer will gorge on a variety of nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds and peanuts. Raw or fried, salted or unsalted. These mighty nutcrackers have been spotted destroying shelled walnuts that have fallen from the tree.

Do deer touch onion?

🦌: "Hell, no!"

However, a few days later the onion tends to disappear. So they might nibble at it once it's wilted, when they've got nothing better to peck at.

Can deer eat parsley?

Deer: "Any day!"

Ok to feed deer pears?

🦌: "Sure!"

Adore these fruits, will consume whole.

Do deer attack plum trees?

Yep. It's like being in the Garden of Eden for them.

They don't even spit out the bones.

doe picking plums of a tree

Will deer eat potato?

Deer: "We'll have large fries and soda, please!"

In truth, these animals will likely eat potato. It does not appear to be their favorite, but eventually it gets cleaned up.

Last modified 2023-05-10 at 14:53


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