Did you walk in on a deer eating grass today? Is it safe for them? If not, what do deer eat?
Deer do feed on grass. However, it is not amongst their favorite or nutritionally-necessary meal. In the wild, a deer will prefer to eat twigs, leaves, shoots of vines and woody plants and forbs (weed and other broadleaf flowering plants).
They might occasionally munch on grass, but that’s only when it is young, green and succulent. Their favorite grasses include but not limited to: panic grasses, wintergrass, rushes, sedges, rescue grass, witchgrass, as well as homegrown and wild wheat, oats, and rye.
Do Deer Eat Grass?
White-tailed deer’s love to eat forbs when they see them. When unavailable, they might feed on browser. However, they cannot thrive on grass and could lose their life with a belly full of grass because they are not physiologically built to digest mature grass.
As browse and forbs become unavailable in an area due to excessive grazing or browsing pressure, exotics such as Silka deer, Axis deer might shift their diet to grass while white-tailed deer suffer from malnutrition.
Most ornamental grasses are considered deer “resistant” when mature.
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What do Deer Eat?
Deer prefer to eat browse (shrubs, vines, tree twigs, leaves and brush).
Although a ruminant animal like cow, a deer diet selection is very different from their cousins. Grasses are really low in crude protein and digestibility when compared to legumes.
Deer Eat High Quality Foods
Since grass contains almost no nutrition, it needs more residence time in animal’s rumen. Longer residence time increases rumen microflora (bacteria and protozoa) degradation and digestion of the forage.
Thus, for grass-roughage eaters like goat, cattle and sheep, residence time is quite long and rate of food passage is slow.
Deer cannot afford to go slow! Their physical activities demand for energy and cannot go around carrying unwanted dead-weight. Instead, white-tailed deer focus on lunching on the most palatable and easily digestible food items found in their area.
That ensures they get the most energy possible from the lowest amount of food intake. Besides, eating uses up energy since they have to be mobile.
What do White-Tailed Deer Eat Then?
Because white-tailed deer has a small rumen relative to their body size, their diet demands for a higher nutritive value capable of a quick digestion in the rumen.
They’re what farmers would call “concentrate selectors”. That is why they go after the good stuffs – forb and browse plants.
These feature higher crude protein levels and better digestibility compared to every grass species out there.
Browse plants are usually more stable since thye’re available all through the year, so they are loved by deer’s. Remember, browse plants consist of vines. Shrubs, and trees. These plant types are deeply rooted and can thrive even in summer.
During the winter, when natural foods are low, deer will also eat old, dead leaves directly off the forest floor. They are low in nutrition at this point, but they may be the best food available to them at that time.
What are some Browse Plants Deer Eats?
Important browse plants include
- Poison ivy,
- Grape vines,
- Elm species,
Oak species and a variety of other trees and shrubs that are palatable in the area/region where the deer live.
Grasses make up less than 10% of a deer diet. Yes, you might see them out in the field eating but it’s not grasses they’re feeding on.
Instead, they’re searching for interspersed weeds or forbs that allows for a much easier digestion and loaded with better protein.
In fact, a lot of the warm perennial grasses you supply your livestock with to keep their nutrients levels going will not meet the normal nutrient requirements of white-tailed deer.
In other words, a white-tailed deer WILL NEVER SURVIVE in a field of grasses.
Only grasses (like ryegrass and small grains) that easily digest in the rumen are sometimes fed on by deer. This is why winter food plots for white-tailed deer featuring these grasses can work.
Other useful introduced forages include both cool and warm season legumes. Deer will feed on these small legumes and grains, but they do not make complete deer diet.
Deer Eat A Diversity of Foods
If you plan on farming deer, then you should provide a good diversity of plant types, and possibly combine it with supplemental feeding so they can maintain optimum body condition.
Deer are very picky eaters so they should be kept in a diverse environment, and a diverse diet to remain healthy. White-tailed deer prefer high quality habitat with lots of options!
Favorite Spots where Deer Eats
Deer feed along field edges because there is a great diversity of food there especially at the intersection of field and edge of a woodland.
This is because forb diversity is low in woodlands, but browse diversity is low in grasslands.
White tailed deer love to feed on native plants that include: forbs, browse, mushrooms, hard and soft mast (acorns, fruits). Deer aren’t grazers, but browsers. At the start of each day, each deer’s mission is to get high quality food with minimal effort.
Mast and forbs, while providing good nutrition, may not be available all through the year. From experience, forbs are plentiful during rainy months such as during the spring and fall. Deer will consume these readily when available because they are very high in protein levels.