ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH FEEDING WILD DEER
Deer can struggle with new foods as it can actually take their stomachs some time to adapt. Regular feeding can also cause deer to become unnaturally dependent on humans for food. This can lead to deer becoming a nuisance in some cases with reports of them developing aggressive behaviour.
The BDS recommends that all deer, no matter how tame they may appear, should not be approached closely, nor should they be fed by hand or encouraged to eat any material that is not part of their natural diet.
Feeding deer in gardens
There is really no need to feed wild deer as they can usually find all that they need naturally, and they may ignore any offerings completely. Indeed, for biological reasons, it can take their stomachs some time to adapt to any new items of diet that they are not used to.
Although proprietary deer feeds are certainly available, these are primarily intended more for park or farmed deer rather than wild ones and providing any food in quantities that might develop an unnatural dependency is not recommended.
If you would like to leave an occasional treat out, deer may accept any number of raw vegetables. Brassicas, such as cabbage or sprouts, and field and green beans can be very popular. Some people have successfully used chopped carrots or potatoes to attract them, and there have been reports of deer enjoying peanuts from bird feeders.
In the wild, they will take fruits and fungi in season, so mushrooms, nuts (shelled) and chopped apples or other fruit might tempt them – although this could become expensive!
It is important to remember that, as deer do not have upper incisor teeth, so they may have difficulty dealing with larger hard items such as whole root crops or apples. It would be helpful to chop these foods into slices or pieces.
Some sources suggest that you can leave out table leftovers, but such offerings are highly unlikely to suit a deer’s digestive system and might cause serious problems – the same applies to any processed food items.
Please keep in mind that encouraging deer to visit your garden may have an unwelcome effect on your other plants, and of course do be aware that your neighbours may not appreciate regular visits.
Hand feeding deer in parks and elsewhere
Deer are great opportunists and some, especially those in parks or popular tourist spots, can quickly learn to overcome a natural fear of man in return for an easy mouthful or two.
Regrettably, feeding deer and other wild animals can encourage an unhealthy dependency as well as having other potential consequences.
Captive deer, even those in parks, are usually kept in numbers which their environment can support and if there is a need for any specialist supplementary feed this will be provided by their keepers.
All deer, even those accustomed to humans, are essentially wild animals. There have been instances when deer have developed unnatural levels of assertiveness after learning to accept food from human hands. This has led to reports of aggressive behaviour and even deer physically bullying people for food.
Deer under any circumstances can still be nervous animals and a sudden fright might cause them to lash out.
It may only take a slight movement of a stag or buck’s head for them to accidentally cause injury to someone standing close by. In addition, a deer’s hooves are very sharp and can be used in self-defence.
Female deer during the birthing season (May to July for most UK species) can be highly defensive of new-born young. Later in the year, during the annual rut, raised levels of testosterone among male deer can also enhance the risk to members of the public who get too close.