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April 07, 2020 3 min read

Deer are ruminants. This makes it possible for them to adopt a wide range of feeding options. Do deer eat grass? Deer do eat grass, but this is not their preferred food. While most ruminants such as cattle will depend on grass due to their large stomach compared to their body size, deer prefer other feeding options usually classified as white-tailed foods.

Why Deer Don’t Prefer Grass

Grasses are usually low in crude protein and a lot harder to digest for the deer when compared with other plants such as legumes, broad leaved weeds and other browse plants. Due to their relatively low value in nutrition, grasses take a lot more time to stay in an animal’s rumen.

This invariably means that there is an increased micro flora activity in the ruminant’s rumen. This is to enable the total breakdown and direction of the fodder. This takes a whole lot of time for nutrients to be absorbed and assimilated in order to give the required strength to the animal. This is one luxury the deer cannot afford, for an animal whose survival in its immediate environment demands that it be agile and alert, not bogged down by extra, dead-weight from undigested food.

Therefore, the deer eat mostly browse (leaves, twigs, stems of woody plants and vines) and forbs – these are weeds and other broad-leaved plants. They are the most easily digested food options found in their immediate environment. It gives them the ability to obtain energy from these foods within the shortest possible time after food intake. Moreover, eating itself is a form of energy loss.

This is not to say that deer do not eat grass. They do. And when they do, they go for the recent, green and succulent grasses. Grasses such as winter grass, witch-grass, panic grass, rescue grass and edges. These grasses make up an impressive 9% of the deer diet.

Surviving Solely On Grass

It has been established that white-tailed deer cannot survive only on a grass diet. They could die from such a sole diet. Their physiology isn’t suited to digest full-grown grasses. They prefer fores when these are available, and turn their attention to browse when those become available as well.
A lot of people may get confused when they sight deer grazing out in the open fields. Well, these deer are not actually eating these grasses. Instead, they are looking for the fobs or weeds that are dispersed among the grasses.

However, there are warm perennial grasses that can meet the nutrient needs of white-tailed deer. Such grasses are quickly broken down in the rumen of the deer. This includes rye grass and small grains.

The Diversity Of Deer Food

For people interested in keeping a herd, it is advisable you maintain a diverse plant community to enable the deer to sustain proper health. Being the selective feeders that they are, a diverse good option will enable them to maintain a diverse diet critical to their remaining in good health.

So, do deer eat grass? White-tailed deer do eat grass, but not a whole lot of them. Contrary to most deer grass-eating presumptions held by many, deer only consume a small portion of the grass, and usually only when they are green, young and still fledgling.