Do Deer Eat Oats?

do-deer-eat-oats

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Most of us have seen deer grazing at bushes, weeds, and even certain grains. In fact, if you buy a bag of commercial deer food, you will see that a prominent ingredient in them is different types of oat. But, do deer eat oats, or are they just fillers? 

Deer do eat oats, and in fact, they are common favorites cross-species. Oats are full of nutrients that are good for the deer, they’re tasty, and they can help them to feel full. They can be especially beneficial to them in the winter when food is scarce.

Why are oats good for deer?

Oats are fantastic foraging material for deer thanks to their digestibility and their relatively high protein content. It’s thought that oats in the wild carry up to 25% raw protein – fantastic for helping deer grow and stay strong and supple in the face of predators.

Oats also tend to be a big favorite of deer during studies, meaning they will likely plump for the odd stalk over your grass (in fact, it’s an urban myth that deer will eat grass at all – unless they have to).

While this may sound like the perfect combination, oats generally won’t grow when deer need them the most. They tend to stop growing in the colder months – meaning you may wish to leave some crops out in a feeding plot. But, is this necessarily a good idea?

Can you feed oats to deer? 

You can feed deer oats, however, you will have to do so with caution. Deer cannot adapt to strange new foods as quickly as most animals can – in fact, giving them too much of anything too fast can cause some serious digestive damage. This is largely due to deer possessing rumens, which are organs that produce particular digestive microbes. What deer eat in summer, for example, varies wildly from what they eat when fall rolls around.

Thankfully, given that oats have a good balance of fiber and carbohydrates, it can be relatively easy – and not too harmful – for a deer to get used to them. It can take between two to four weeks for them to get used to any new foods, and you need to start by adding them naturally to their normal food. You can do this by mixing the oats in with pellets, any vegetables or fruits that you commonly leave out for them, etc. Slowly increase the amount that you put out over time. 

Try to get them used to their new food before the winter. During this time, their bodies need to adapt to the lack of their natural foods, so introducing new ones when their bodies have changed can be very dangerous, and even deadly for them. 

That being said, if you plan on starting feeding deer, it is not always a good idea to suddenly stop because it is winter. Depending on how frequently the deer may come to you for food, they may become dependent on you. Suddenly stopping feeding them could lead them to starve. That is why feeding them commercial deer food, or even oats is best, but you should start earlier in the year. 

However, feeding deer in the winter is discouraged for the risk it can pose to their digestive systems. What’s more, feeding deer is actually illegal in multiple states (for example, it’s been illegal in Virginia for over a decade).

Therefore, consider your options carefully. It may simply be more worthwhile growing trees deer love and letting them explore your yard occasionally – it’s your call!

What kind of oats do you use for deer? 

If you are interested in feeding deer oats (and it is legal for you to do so), then it is best to opt for rolled oats, whole oats, or even coarsely milled oats. These will be the easiest to digest. Thankfully, these are usually the kinds of oats that many of us use for baking or in porridge.

However, if you plan to feed your leftover oats to deer coming to your garden, be careful. Avoid feeding them anything that could have been mixed with your oats, including sugar, spices, and oils. This could be especially dangerous in the winter, so even berries that they may be used to eating in the summer would not necessarily be good to mix in.

While not necessarily picky if hungry, deer have notoriously sensitive digestive systems. If you’re ever unsure how to proceed with feeding them, don’t take the risk!

Do deer prefer wheat or oats? 

Generally speaking, deer prefer to eat oats over wheat as they prefer the taste, and they are somewhat easier for them to digest. That being said, oats are not available year-round and they will die off in the winter. Sadly, it is around that time that deer could use the oats the most. That is where the wheat comes in. 

During the winter, younger sprouts of wheat will begin to emerge across the US and take oats’ place in their daily feeding. They can then sustain themselves on this new diet until fresh oats and berries emerge in the spring.

Deer will eat all kinds of things if they are hungry – for example, did you know that deer eat bananas? Regardless, it’s always good to be careful with what you put out for your local ruminants – you never know what they’ve eaten elsewhere.

About author
Graham Pierrepoint is an avid wild gardener, spending much of his spare time creating exciting spaces for local birds, bugs, and other beasties to explore! He writes regularly for Wild Yards to help share his years of flora and fauna expertise with other birdwatchers and horticulturists.

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