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December 10, 2020 3 min read
Do deer eat hay? A straightforward answer would be, yes, they do eat hay. However, digestion may become a problem subsequently. If the deer have long been introduced to eating hay alongside their preferred diet of forbs, then this poses no major problem. This is because, over time, they would have built up microflora in their stomach necessary for the digestion and degradation of the hay.
Problems arise when the deer, never having been introduced to ad it of hay, is made to survive on a hay diet. They can die of starvation with a stomach full of hay. It’s that serious. This scenario was brought to the fore by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which fed tons of hay to a large herd of deer that were trapped in a country-side valley. A rescue operation carried out with the best intentions of keeping the deer alive turned out to be a wrong move.
The herd of deer did eat the alfalfa hays that were supplied for them, only to die later on from starvation with hay-filled bellies. The few deer that survived, managed to, because they combined their diet of hay along with twigs, bark and other browse that they could find.
Again, if the deer had been gradually introduced to a diet of hay some months earlier, they might have grown accustomed to a diet of hay due to the build-up of the necessary bacteria that must have occurred in their stomach.
A lot of people are perplexed by the seasonal hay-feeding patterns of deer. Deer may feed on hay during the harsh winter seasons and react negatively from them. Apparently, they do not have the bacteria in their digestive system to degrade these days. Filling up their stomachs with hays only may mean coming down with meningitis, which may invariably lead to their death.
However, during the start of favorable seasons, when winter is long gone, the deer can be seen actively eating hays and grains without much trouble. Why so? Studies have shown that deer survive on hays during favorable seasons because in this case the deer are not just eating hays only. With the snow gone, they can turn to other preferred diets such as acorns, browse and dry leaves. These food types will allow them to build up the necessary bacteria to break down hays and other grains.
With stories about deer dying from stomachs filled with hays, do deer eat hay? Or better put, can deer eat hay? All it takes is a little bit of understanding of how the deer discretion works, to answer these questions perfectly. This will enable us to understand why sometimes with bellies filled with hays deer still die from starvation. Moreover, understanding that a deer’s diet changes with the seasons will give you an idea on whether to feed them with certain foods during certain seasons.
As fall approaches, deer are likely to eat browse. And when they do, there are a lot more microorganisms to digest this food type. When there is a reduced intake of leafy foods and forbs, the microorganism level simply declines and becomes less active. This shift in microorganism level is at the heart of the ‘can or can’t eat hay debacle.
In Summer, there’s an increased activity of microorganisms. So, the deer can live off hay comfortably. As fall approaches, a little bit of hay each day would do. Trouble arises when having been only on a diet of browse, the deer switches to hay. With a few amounts of microorganisms to help break down the hays, this can prove disastrous for the deer.
Finally, do deer eat hay? Sure, they do. Provided it is done at the right time when their digestive system is able to adjust to such a diet.
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