Do Deer Eat Hay? They Can, But…

Last updated on September 27th, 2022

During a recent visit to a farm, I discovered that farmers take extra precautions to protect the harvested produce from animal attacks.

They even take precautions to protect the hay from their fields from the attack of animals like deer.

Hay is essential to farm produce as it is animal fodder and is also used to make animal bedding to provide warmth during winter.

I was surprised that the deer is a common animal that likes to eat hay. 

Deer can eat hay but it would be difficult for them to digest and they might refuse to eat it if it’s stemmy, old, and moldy but even though coarse hay is detrimental to a deer’s stomach, these creatures will forage on it when other food sources are scarce.

Do deer like hay?

Hay is often a favorite food of herbivores, like elephants, cattle, and even goats. But when it comes to the digestive system of deer, you will find that these creatures prefer grass, leaves, and twigs.

This is because they need to eat food that can be easily digested by microorganisms living in their rumen. 

Does hay attract deer?

Fresh hay does attract deer, especially during winter when the temperature falls below 50°F and the grass stops growing. 

Is it possible to feed deer hay by hand?

You might have seen videos of people feeding deer handfuls of hay. But in most cases, this is far removed from reality.

The primary reason is that hay is not a natural food for deer.

Additionally, in the wild, you should avoid feeding anything to a deer by hand. If you want to feed hay to a deer, you can do it in the zoo if the caretaker of the deer allows you to.

Furthermore, even then, you should avoid feeding the creature by hand and follow the feeding instructions given by the caretaker.

spotted deer resting near wooder feeder with hay 10092022_1

Is there a particular type of hay that deer can eat?

Hay is primarily dried grass. But the coarseness of the fodder makes it unsuitable for deer.

Deer will avoid eating hay because its stomach behaves differently from other herbivorous animals.

However, a deer will happily eat hay made from alfalfa. This is because it can eat hay, both dry and fresh.

Do deer eat alfalfa hay?

Deer can eat alfalfa hay because it’s high in protein and digestible energy, however, if you feed it to a deer that’s locked up on a farm, it may get restless but if the deer gets to roam around the farmland, feeding it alfalfa hay won’t make it antsy.

Alfalfa hay has more crude protein and calcium than grass hay. Moreover, for a deer, alfalfa hay is easily digestible.

During the summer season when the cattle will graze out the grass, fresh alfalfa hay in particular can be a great source of feed not only for livestock but for deer as well.

Can deer eat coastal hay?

Coastal hay is commonly known to increase the risk of colic in animals so this should be avoided when feeding deer hay.

Can deer eat hay bales?

Farmers often mention that haystacks become vulnerable to deer attacks during winter. The lack of food can drive hungry deer to hay bales. But the dried hay can harm the deer. In addition, the coarse hay can cause digestive distress to the deer.

Still curious about what animals eat hay? Check out our article to learn more.

When will you find deer eating hay?

During spring and summer, the rumen of a deer is filled with microorganisms that can easily break down forbs, grass, leaves, and twigs.

Hence, you will find that a deer will eat this type of foliage throughout summer and spring.

But as fall and winter set in, the usual food consumed by wild deer grows scarce. As a result, it will have to depend on readily available food.

Thus, if hay is one of the items available to a foraging deer during winter, the creature will eat it.

Can deer eat hay in the winter?

In the winter, when the temperature falls below 50°F and the shrubs and grass cease to grow, deer can eat leafy greens such as kale and cabbage along with roughage like alfalfa hay.

Can deer bred in captivity be given hay?

You will find that sometimes deer that live in zoos or reserves are given small bales of hay. This hay is usually made from alfalfa which a deer can easily digest.

But before giving hay to a deer, the caretakers have to ensure that the food is introduced slowly into the diet of a deer.

It usually begins by regularly giving the deer a small quantity of alfalfa hay to the creature.

Once the deer get used to the taste of the hay and they don’t suffer from any digestive distress on being given hay, the caretaker will include this fodder as a part of the daily diet of a deer bred in captivity.

Is consuming hay healthy for deer bred in captivity?

Alfalfa hay can help a deer develop a healthy digestive system.

In the case of a deer, during summer, it will eat significant amounts of forbs and leaves, and as a result, its digestive system will have healthy colonies of microorganisms that can help digestion.

But during winter, the colonies reduce in number as there is a natural lack of leaves and forbs.

However, in the case of deer bred in captivity, you can prevent that by introducing a small amount of alfalfa hay into its diet.

It will prevent the colonies of microorganisms from reducing, and you will find that the deer enjoys a healthy diet even in winter.

Is it necessary for farmers to protect the haystacks from deer attacks?

For two reasons, farmers need to protect their haystacks from deer attacks.

The first being the hay collected after a harvest can help provide fodder to cattle on the farm. It is cheap and sufficiently nutritious for the animals living on the farm.

Secondly, consuming hay can be dangerous for the deer, and in most cases, hay can cause a deer digestive distress and is not sufficiently nutritious for the creature.

Hence, for the benefit of the farm animals and the wild deer, farmers often set up precautionary measures to prevent the deer from accessing the haystacks.

What is the typical food that you can give deer during winter?

To ensure that the wild deer near your home get sufficient food during winter, you can attract them by giving them fruits, vegetables, and even vegetable skins.

You can even cut down some branches from the tree in your garden for the deer.

But you should avoid giving hay, even alfalfa hay, to the deer. One of the reasons is that it will depend on you for food.

Wild deer are naturally capable of finding food to sustain themselves.

Secondly, if you do not give good quality hay to the deer, it can be detrimental to the creature’s health.

Hence, if you want to give food to a deer nearby in winter, it is best that you give fruits, vegetables, and twigs but in small quantities.

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