Deer are known for eating just about anything. After all, a deer’s diet is extremely diverse, and it can vary season-to-season to support varied nutritional needs. Keep reading to find out whether deer eat hay.
Hay is a popular feed for livestock and other animals, so maybe that’s why you assumed that deer would eat it.
But do deer eat hay? They sometimes do, but it’s not prominent in a deer’s diet. In fact, it could end up doing more harm than good. There are many reasons why hay isn’t necessarily healthy for deer.
Should You Feed Deer Hay?
The quick answer? Probably not. Hay is extremely high in fiber, but it’s lacking in other vitamins.
The high fiber content and low nutrient value is a bad combination for deer. It makes hay hard for a deer’s digestive system to handle.
Unlike humans, deer don’t know when to stop eating. They are instinctual animals and are programmed to eat as much food as possible to store energy for the winter months when food is scarce.
If a deer starts eating hay, it will just keep eating and eating. That’s because the hay isn’t giving them enough calories, but the stomach will fill up.
This will give the deer indigestion and could lead to other serious health problems. It’s important to keep in mind that there are many different species of deer in the world.
Their diet varies heavily from species to species, and it depends heavily on their respective locations. Moose, for instance, enjoy eating more tender water plants and like to browse on twigs than what white-tailed deer prefer to eat.
There are some circumstances where small amounts of hay could help a deer. An example would be if a deer doesn’t have any other food.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of eating hay for deer.
Pros and Cons of Deer Eating Hay
Hay has both advantages and disadvantages for deer. Here they are below.
- Offers some nutrition
- May help with clogged bowels
- May be useful in the harsh winter months
- Potential for indigestion
- Low nutritional value
- Makes the deer feel full and unlikely to eat food they need
- May interfere with natural foraging habits
Overall, deer should only be fed hay if they’re in captivity or need a supplementary food source. And it should only be offered in limited amounts combined with more important food sources that cervids need for their health and well-being.
Does Hay Attract Deer?
Hay doesn’t smell particularly spectacular and won’t attract deer as strongly as fruits or other types of feed. So, there’s nothing particularly unique about hay that will attract deer.
However, an open haystack will be appealing to a deer. There are few other animals that will compete for this food source, and it’s easy to share.
That means hay is appealing to families and herds of deer.
You’ll be more likely to attract deer if you consistently replenish your hay source. Once deer find a good food source and know they can rely on it, they will return.
Hunters know this trick and will set up feeding stations that they replenish throughout the year so that the deer keep coming back.
Dedicated hunters will revisit the site themselves so that the deer become accustomed to human scent.
What to Feed Deer Instead of Hay
There are plenty of pre-made deer feed mixes out there. You can find them at your local hunting supply store or outdoor recreational shop.
Buying feed in person gives you the opportunity to talk to deer lovers in your area who can give you an idea of what the deer in your area eat.
Generally, deer feed is nutritious and contains important elements of a deer’s diet. Some have nuts and berries, whereas others are higher in grain.
The right mixture could change depending on the time of year and the climate. If you don’t want to buy deer feed, you can feed deer scraps of fruit and vegetables.
Bread is not a good idea because it doesn’t offer any nutrients. Deer don’t need as many carbs as humans.
How to Feed Deer
Check with local experts on the topic before you start feeding deer. There are two things you need to understand:
- The deer that live in your area
- What their feeding habits and dietary needs are
Even if you have the best of intentions when feeding deer, you could end up disrupting their ecosystem. In other words, you could end up doing more harm than good.
Once deer have started coming, you’ll need to replenish the food on a daily basis. Deer need to eat every day, and sometimes you’ll have to refill the feeder more than once per day.
Don’t be discouraged if deer don’t start coming immediately. They probably know that the food is there but are waiting to make sure there aren’t any traps or predators nearby.
You’ll need to alter the amounts and types of food seasonally. Deer need more food during winter, so you’ll need to refill more frequently during the colder months.
You’ll also need to make sure that the food has more nutrients in the winter than during the summer.
If you’re feeding deer, make sure they have a good water source nearby. Deer need to stay hydrated and water can be just as difficult to find as food during the winter.
Final Thoughts: Do Deer Eat Hay?
Deer do eat just about anything, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should. Figuring out the right mixture of deer feed is a complicated process and takes time.
Yes, deer are often willing to eat hay. But that doesn’t mean they should consume it frequently. If you’re serious about providing a quality food source for deer and have the land, consider planting a deer food plot.