Through my day job in the hunting industry, I’ve had several customers ask questions about deer and chicken feed. The most common question seems to be this one: Will deer eat chicken feed?
From experience, I know that whitetails will consume chicken feed, but it seems to be a secondary food source for them versus a primary source.
Typical Whitetail Diet
Whitetail deer are herbivores (at least technically), which means their diet consists mainly of plant material. They primarily feed on leaves, twigs, buds, bark, and fruits. While their diet may vary based on the specific species and environmental factors, deer generally have a diverse range of food preferences.
Preferred food sources for deer
Deer are selective in their food choices, often preferring tender and nutritious plants. They commonly consume grasses forbs and browse on woody plants such as shrubs and young trees. Their preferred food sources include plants such as clover, alfalfa, wheat, oats, apples, acorns, and various types of grasses.
Factors affecting deer’s feeding behavior
Several factors influence the feeding behavior of deer. These include the availability of food sources, seasonal changes, weather conditions, and natural plant growth cycles. Deer tend to alter their feeding habits to adapt to these factors, ensuring they have a consistent food supply throughout the year.
Understanding Chicken Feed
The average person who doesn’t know much about poultry typically believes that there’s only one kind of poultry feed, and it works for any poultry. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly correct, as poultry feed is a bit more complicated.
Composition of Chicken Feed
Chicken feed is primarily formulated to meet the dietary needs of poultry. It typically consists of grains such as corn, wheat, and soybean meal, along with added vitamins, minerals, and protein sources. The composition may vary depending on the specific type and brand of feed.
It’s also worth noting that there are various types of chicken feed designed specifically for a chicken’s life cycle. For example, baby chickens are fed a specially formulated feed called starter feed. As they get older, the young chickens transition to a type of feed called grower feed. Adult chickens are generally fed a feed type called layer feed.
In addition to the different types of poultry feed, there are also different feed formats, including:
Regarding the size of the feed particles or format, mash is the smallest format on the market. It’s typically used to feed chicks due to its extremely small particle size.
Crumble feed is the next size up of feed particles and has the consistency of dry oatmeal. Crumble is a popular option for young chickens that are too old for mash but still too small to easily consume adult feed.
The largest size of poultry feed is formatted in small pellets, and this is the most common and popular variety on the market.
Deer Consumption of Chicken Feed
There have been numerous reports and observations (including my own) of deer consuming chicken feed in areas where deer and poultry coexist. These instances often occur when deer come into close proximity to poultry farms or residential areas where chicken feed is present. The increased availability and accessibility of chicken feed can lead to deer showing interest in consuming it.
Why Are Deer Drawn to Chicken Feed
Poultry feed often contains grains and protein-rich ingredients that can be appealing to deer. While it is not part of their natural food sources, whitetail deer can be attracted to the scent and taste of chicken feed, especially if other food options are limited.
The few times that I’ve witnessed whitetails eating chicken feed were all in late winter, during a time when there wasn’t much natural food available.
That being said, I also have an acquaintance who hunts on a commercial chicken farm, and he observes whitetails eating chicken feed nearly every time he hunts.
Factors Influencing Deer’s Interest in Poultry Feed
Several factors can potentially influence a deer’s interest in chicken feed. Limited natural food sources, seasonal fluctuations, drought conditions, and the proximity of chicken feed to their habitat can all play a role. Additionally, if deer become habituated to the presence of chicken feed, they may develop a preference for it, further increasing the likelihood of consumption.
Potential Dangers of Deer Consuming Chicken Feed
Allowing whitetails to consume poultry feed is not without some potential risks, including the following:
Nutritional imbalances in deer’s diet
Chicken feed is not specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of deer, and regular consumption can lead to imbalances in their diet.
Whitetails require specific nutrients found in natural vegetation, and consuming an excessive amount of chicken feed may result in deficiencies or excesses of certain nutrients, negatively affecting their overall health.
Health Risks Associated With Consuming Poultry Feed
Chicken feed may contain ingredients or additives unsuitable for deer consumption. These substances could have adverse effects on deer, ranging from digestive issues to potential toxicity.
Some specific examples of potential issues include:
- Medicated feed
- Spreading of chicken related diseases
- Diet and Nutrition Concerns
Let dive a little deeper into each of those potential risks:
Some chicken feed contains a medication designed to protect from dangerous diseases common in domestic poultry. Although medicated feed is more commonly used with chicks and juvenile chickens, some people also offer it to adult chickens regularly as a preventative.
The medication most commonly included in feed is amprolium, which prevents coccidiosis and other diseases. Whitetails can ingest some amprolium without any adverse side effects, but an unregulated amount consumed in feed could potentially cause some health issues.
Potential Transmission of Poultry-Related Illnesses
Working off the assumption that whitetails will most likely consume chicken feed around an area that houses, breeds, or raises chickens, it’s also possible that deer could potentially pick up some poultry-related diseases or illnesses.
For example, there are confirmed reports of whitetails contracting coccidiosis, which appears to be uncommon in deer.
Potential Diet Concerns
While poultry feed contains some materials that are beneficial to a whitetail’s diet, there are also other areas where it lacks sufficient nutrients necessary for optimal whitetail health.
Should deer become dependent on chicken feed as a primary food source, it could lead to serious nutritional deficiencies.
Should You Feed Poultry Feed to Whitetail Deer?
While you could potentially offer deer a little bit of chicken feed occasionally, I don’t recommend it as a primary supplemental food source over time. There are far better food options available for deer that meet their dietary needs.
Preventive Measures to Keep Deer Away from Chicken Feed
Deer deterrents or repellents
Various deer deterrents and repellents can be employed to discourage deer from accessing chicken feed. These can include odor-based repellents, such as predator scents or strong-smelling substances, as well as taste-based repellents that make the feed unappealing to deer. Regular application and rotation of these deterrents can help discourage deer from consuming chicken food.
Proper storage and containment of chicken feed
Another preventative approach involves proper storage and containment of the poultry food. Sturdy containers and secure storage areas can prevent deer from reaching the feed. Ensuring that any spilled feed is promptly cleaned up is essential, as lingering scent can attract deer.
Fencing and physical barriers
Installing fences or other physical barriers around chicken feed storage areas or poultry farms can be an effective method to deter deer. Tall, sturdy fences can prevent deer from accessing the feed, reducing the chances of consumption. The fence height will need to be at least 6 feet tall, as whitetails are excellent leapers and can potentially jump over any fencing under 6 feet.
Alternative feeding stations or food sources for deer
Providing alternative feeding stations or supplementary food sources can be beneficial to divert deer’s attention away from chicken feed. This can include planting deer friendly food plots or providing high-quality, wildlife-approved feed specifically designed for deer. The likelihood of deer consuming chicken feed can be reduced by offering appealing alternatives.
Here are some questions that are routinely associated with deer consuming chicken feed:
Can you put chicken feed in a deer feeder?
Depending on the consistency and format of the chicken feed, you can potentially use it in a deer feeder. The pellet and crumble feed formats will work in a deer feeder, but the fine particles of the mash format can clog up a feeder.
As I mentioned previously, chicken feed is not a great food alternative for whitetails. While it’s especially high in raw protein, it lacks other necessary nutrients necessary for a healthy whitetail food source. Just because chicken feed can work in a deer feeder doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good food item for deer.
Is chicken feed good for deer?
While deer may eat chicken feed, it is not the best option for their nutrition. Chicken feed is formulated for poultry and may not contain all the necessary nutrients for the health of deer.
What should I do if deer are eating my chicken feed?
If deer are eating your chicken feed, you have a couple of potential options:
- Try to make the poultry feed inaccessible to the whitetails via a fence, chicken wire, etc.
- Offer the deer some other food source that they like away from the poultry food.
Can deer digest chicken feed?
White-tailed deer are equipped with a specialized digestive system adapted to digesting vegetation. While they can consume chicken feed, their stomachs are not designed to fully digest it, and it may not provide them with the necessary nutrients for their overall health.
Can I feed wild deer in my backyard if I have chickens?
Assuming that it’s legal to feed whitetail deer in your area, you can potentially feed the deer and chickens separately while keeping the deer out of your poultry food. However, steps will need to be taken to keep the whitetails out of the chicken food.
While whitetail deer primarily rely on natural sources for their diet, instances of deer consuming chicken feed can occur when other food sources are limited or poultry feed becomes available.
Chicken feed does not contain the same nutrient levels found in a deer’s natural food sources, so feed is not a viable long-term food source that should be offered to deer.