Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What Can We Feed the Deer During a Heavy Snow Period in Michigan?

Whitetail deer can be found in every Michigan county.

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Winter in Michigan brings about its own survival woes. In addition to heat and shelter, citizens also work to ensure their pets are cared for and protected from the elements. It can be natural to feel empathy for one's woodland neighbors, such as deer, during a hard winter. While instinct may be to feed them, Michigan has a no-feed law in place for some very good reasons. Knowing how deer physiology and habits change in the winter can actually show why feeding deer in the winter can cause more harm than good.

Related Searches: Changes in Deer Physiology

Wild animals have natural ways to deal with the harsh conditions winter can bring. While deer do not hibernate like bears do, they do undergo a unique set of physiological changes that allow them to require less food in winter. These changes include: the growth of a thicker coat of hollow hairs for added insulation, fat storage to provide calories over long stretches when calories may not be available and decrease of metabolic rate to burn fat more slowly and make fat storage last longer.

Deer Digestion

Deer fall into the category of ruminants, meaning they have a four-part stomach with microbes used for digesting specific types of woody vegetation that is the staple of their diet. When well-intended humans begin to introduce new foods into a deer’s diet, specifically corn and other grains, deer are unable to digest the food efficiently because they do not have the right microbial support in their digestive systems. In some cases, deer may even starve with a stomach full of food.

Deer Habitat

While you may see deer roaming in fields and near the shoulders of the road, when the thick of winter approaches, they migrate to habitat complexes. These complexes are characterized by thick thermal cover to break brisk winter wind and provide shelter from heavy snow. These complexes typically contain sufficient vegetation for their survival as well.

Natural Selection

In a natural environment, the healthiest and strongest deer will eat first and eat the most. Young, old and sick deer eat less. This does not change if humans try to supplement the deer’s natural diet. If humans supply more food, the healthiest and strongest deer will still eat first and eat the most, which provides little-to-no help for the deer that actually need the most help. This is a natural process that ensures the deer herd does not grow to numbers beyond what the natural environment can support.

ReferencesMichigan Department of Natural Resources: Deer and Feeding BanDepartment of Natural Resources: Michigan Landowners Guide to Whitetail DeerMichigan Department of Natural Resources: Whitetail DeerPhoto Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty ImagesRead Next:

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