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Do feeders put deer at risk of disease?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: Does the use of a feeder really put deer at risk of disease? -- Matthew M.

ANSWER: It certainly can. Feed that has been improperly stored or gotten wet may contain molds that could be harmful in one of three ways: mycotic growth on or within the animal, mycotoxins that are harmful when eaten or through an allergic reaction.

Feeding the wrong type of food at the wrong time of year can also weaken the digestive system making a deer more susceptible to disease. Deer naturally adjust to changes in the type and amount of food available and it may take several weeks for them to develop the proper microfauna (bacteria) within their complex four-chambered stomach to digest certain foods. If you were to suddenly introduce the wrong type of food at the wrong time, results could be devastating.

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Corn is a prime example because it is so widely used. It can be a great winter food, if deer have had access to it throughout the fall. But if you wait until they have adjusted to a diet of predominantly browse, then introduce corn, it could spell trouble.

If there is a transmittable disease present, anytime you concentrate deer into close proximity it increases the possibility of disease transmission. Some states have prohibited the feeding of deer for some or all of the above reasons.

Still, supplemental feeding can be beneficial to deer, if done properly. It should also be noted that despite the tens of thousands of deer feeders being used throughout the country each year, there is very little scientific evidence firmly documenting disease outbreaks as a result of feeders.

If you plan on feeding you should follow a few guidelines.
-- Use the proper feed for the time of year
-- Begin with small amounts to allow deer time to become accustomed to the feed
-- Keep your feeders and feed clean and dry
-- Dispose of any spoiled or moldy feed in a way that deer cannot access it
-- Try to spread feed over a larger area

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