Deer Feeding Not Recommended
Inside the Outdoors, December 18, 2009

Anyone who has ever owned a cat or a dog knows the closeness one gets to his beloved pet. Treating them gingerly, tenderly and as a member of the family comes easily especially if each of us has been brought up within a loving family.

With that said, often we think because we treat our pets a certain way, we should use that affection, if you want to call it that, toward animals of the wild. Unfortunately, you may think you are doing the right thing, but good intentions are not always wise ones.

Recently, while reading another one of Jeannine Tardiff Fleegle’s great articles, I learned many great facts of which I was unaware. You may remember because of her wonderful story, “Where Do Baby Deer Come From,” I was able to introduce you to Delbert, my “dear deer” friend that educated me about his family and relatives in a story I had written for an Off the Wall column titled, “Come to Mama.”

In this article, “Did Someone Say Free Food?,” the PGC wildlife biologist starts out by drawing readers to the attention that people will put out food so as to “attract wildlife for viewing.” This my sound foolish, but now that I have lived here in the Laurel Highlands for over 36 years, when I see a deer grazing in the fields or standing near a roadside, my eyes become glued to these critters and I don’t want to look away until they disappear. Am I any different than anyone else? I don’t think so.

“Feeding congregates deer in unnatural densities. And, just like cramming 200 people on an airplane increases the odds of catching a case of the sniffles from 14B,” she continues, “concentrating large numbers of deer in small areas increases the risk of spreading diseases such as chronic wasting disease, tuberculosis and mange.”

This next statement should be the clincher for anyone even thinking about putting food out for deer. “Deer can get sick merely by eating supplemental food.” So, ask yourself, “Are you really interested in looking at the animals by feeding them at the cost that you may cause them harm? I don’t think so. Are you guilty? Gather it and remove it at once! You may not be seeing as many animals outside your window, but you will also rest assured that what you are doing is for the betterment of all four-legged friends.

Ponder this. “Sudden exposure to a concentrated grain, like corn, can cause a fatal disruption of a deer’s rumen (the first division of the stomach where the food collects immediately and then later is returned to the mouth). By the time the microorganisms of the rumen adapt to a highly digestible, low-fiber feed, the deer could be dead from a build up of lactic acid,” she said. Are you starting to get the picture?

The biologist also pointed out, “There is no such thing as a free lunch. Decades of research show supplemental feeding leads to increased disease risk, long-term habitat destruction, increased vehicle collisions, habituation to humans and altercation in deer behavior.” Of nothing more, that’s definitely food for thought!

She concluded by stating, “…nature has been coaching this game for millennia. Winter mortality will never be eliminated. Rather than feeding, we can help by improving habitat and natural food sources that benefit all wildlife.”

Just a note on those who find birding an interest this time of the year. The PGC officials are urging wildlife enthusiasts to join the tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the USA to help out with the Audubon Society’s 110th Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which will take place Dec. 14, through Jan. 5. For further instructions, visit the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) and click on “Wildlife” in the left-hand column, and then choose the “Christmas Bird Count” icon in the center of the page. Information also can be obtained from Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count website (http://www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc/), or on the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology’s website (http://www.pabirds.org).


- Paul J. Volkmann
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