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White-tailed Deer’s Diet Changing With The Season

4-11-16  white-tailed deer 130

Being ruminants, white-tailed deer have a four-chambered stomach which allows them to digest a wide variety of food, including leaves, twigs, fruits and nuts, grass, corn, alfalfa, and even lichens and fungi.  Their stomach hosts a complex set of microbes – organisms such as bacteria, which are too small to be seen with the naked eye – that change as the deer’s diet changes through the seasons.

In general, the green leaves of growing plants are consumed in the spring and summer, while fruits and seeds are eaten as they become available. Hard mast foods, such as hickory nuts and acorns, are an extremely important component of fall and early winter diets when deer need to establish fat reserves. The buds and twigs of woody plants are a mainstay of their diet in winter.

At this time of year it is not unusual to see deer grazing in fields that are just starting to have a touch of green. Grass is a welcome change from their winter woody diet, but it only comprises a very small (less than 8%) of a deer’s overall diet, due to its low crude protein and digestibility. Because their rumen (the stomach chamber where most microbial fermentation takes place) is small relative to their body size, a white-tailed deer’s diet must be high in nutritive value and capable of being rapidly degraded in the rumen.  Therefore, white-tailed deer rely primarily on alfalfa, clover, beans and other legumes, additional herbaceous flowering plants, and browse, all of which have more protein and are more easily digested than grasses.

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6 responses

  1. TULIPS!! The deer ate all my tulips two days ago. Must be their idea of a hot-fudge sundae.

    April 11, 2016 at 7:42 am

    • Exactly – tulips are a delicacy to them!

      April 11, 2016 at 7:59 am

    • How heart-breaking! Like a robbery.

      April 11, 2016 at 5:02 pm

  2. Ann Hesselsweet

    Yes, they have eaten all the trillium in our woods.

    April 11, 2016 at 7:45 am

  3. mariagianferrari

    I live in Virginia, where we have TONS of deer. They often eat acorns from the tree in my front yard during the winter

    April 11, 2016 at 12:36 pm

  4. Gardener’s nemesis.

    April 11, 2016 at 5:03 pm

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