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Question and Answer ArticleDeer Dilemma

By Jennifer T. Derrick
Published: May 14, 2010
Photo by ©
Q: Two of my neighbors have befriended the deer in our neck of the woods. One puts out corn and the other sets out a salt lick. Aren’t these bad practices?
– Joy; via e-mail

A:  Feeding deer seems so caring, but you’re right – it’s not the best idea. The main reason is that the risk for transmitting diseases, such as chronic wasting disease, is much higher when multiple deer gather at the same feeding spot. Many illnesses are transmitted both by direct contact (animal to animal) and indirect contact (sick deer eats corn and then healthy deer eats it). This obviously goes for both salt licks and corn feed.
Aside from this, there isn’t much to suggest that deer benefit from salt licks. And corn is actually bad for them; their digestive systems have difficulty processing high carbohydrate foods. Another problem with corn is that there are no limits on how much aflatoxin – a grain fungus – is allowed. Livestock feed must adhere to allowable limits, but deer corn doesn’t. Some deer may simply feel unwell, but others may die.
There are other issues too. Putting out food and licks in neighborhoods, even cabin communities, increases the deer population. If these are places that hunters aren’t allowed to go, the population can become unsustainable. And finally, chances are your neighbor’s beloved animal friends may become another neighbor’s annoying and destructive pests. Deer do get used to having humans around and will be more likely to nibble at – or destroy – your gardens, shrubs and trees.
If you start seeing more deer on your property or notice damage to your plants, you might bring the topic to your neighbors’ attention. Many people who put out feed and licks are simply nature lovers who are misinformed.

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