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Ask BDS – Can I Feed Deer in My Garden?

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Article by:
Charles Smith-Jones, Technical Adviser, British Deer Society

Can I Feed Deer in My Garden?

Although deer are not always welcome visitors to the garden, the BDS is often asked if food can be put out for them. 

There is really no need to feed wild deer as they can usually find all that they need naturally, even during dry conditions.  Indeed, for biological reasons, it can actually take their stomachs some time to adapt to any new items of diet, and if deer cannot source what they need naturally they usually tend to move elsewhere. 

Although proprietary deer feeds are certainly available these are mainly intended for park or farmed deer rather than wild ones.  In any case it is always inadvisable to provide food in any quantities which might develop an unnatural dependency.  Regular concentrations of deer at fixed feeding points can also encourage disease and high parasitic burdens.

If you would like to leave an occasional treat out, deer may accept a variety of raw vegetables.  Brassicas, such as cabbage or sprouts, and field and green beans can be popular as well as chopped carrots or potatoes.  There have even been some reports of deer deliberately spilling and enjoying peanuts from bird feeders.  

In the wild they will take fruits and fungi in season, so mushrooms, shelled nuts and fruit might also tempt them.  The deer may, however, ignore any offerings completely.

As deer do not have upper incisor teeth they may have difficulty dealing with larger hard items such as whole root crops or apples so it would be helpful to chop such items into slices or pieces.  

Any materials offered should be kept as natural as possible.  Bread, table leftovers or processed foods will not be suited to a deer’s digestive system and could cause serious problems so should not be put out.

There is no need to leave out water under normal conditions.  Deer usually obtain most of the moisture that they need through their food, though in unusually hot weather they may seek out other sources so animal troughs or buckets could well be visited.

Do ensure that any uneaten food is regularly cleared away, and do be aware that E coli 0157 is naturally present in the guts of deer as well as those of many other animals.  It carries a particular risk to young people and the elderly.

 You should always wear rubber gloves, or at least wash your hands thoroughly afterwards, should you handle their droppings.


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