What do deer eat?

Online Biology Dictionary



What do deer eat? Deer are herbivores,

that is, they eat plants of one type or another. The diet of a wild deer includes such things as grass, bark, twigs, berries, young shoots and other vegetation. Deer eat about two pounds of dry food for every 100 pounds of body weight each day. Lactating mothers will consume more.

dental pad
Cow's dental pad

Like other bovids, deer lack upper incisors. Instead they have a dental pad on the upper mandible against which the lower incisors press to grip grass and other food items, which is then ripped loose with a tugging motion of the head. The low cheek teeth are covered with tough crescentic ridges of enamel that enable deer to grind their tough food. Deer are ruminants, that is, they regurgitate half-digested food (known as "cud"), chew it again, and re-swallow it.

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One of the most useful deer adaptations is their ability to digest tough foods like grass that contain lots of cellulose. This ability allows them to eat foods that are widely available and yet useless to most other mammals, with the exception other ruminants, such as cattle, goats, sheep and giraffes.

The rut, or breeding period, is in the fall. During this time a buck will eat much less and may loose up to a third of his weight.

Deer have long been considered agricultural pests because of their propensity to feed on crops. In many areas they also make a nuisance of themselves by invading people's yards at night and eating up every ornamental plant they can get at. Cat owners can slow down such depredations by spreading used kitty litter around the yard, especially near prized plants that deer like to eat. The deer smell it and avoid the area, apparently thinking there may be a cougar or other big cat lying in wait.

What do deer eat in captivity?

The main thing deer eat in captivity is hay. The most common problem with captive deer is the overfeeding of grain. Most kinds of deer do not need grain. Their digestive systems can't handle highly fermentable grains, and the result is often death from enterotoxemia. Deer can develop gastric ulcers and various infections due to the feeding of grain even in low levels.

If you want to give them something in addition to their basic hay diet, alfalfa pellets, or combination-type pellets, are a better choice. The general feeding of deer is very similar to other livestock which are fed mostly forages and very little grain.

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