The Michigan Department of Natural Resources hasn’t confirmed many reports of deer dying by starvation, but it acknowledged there could be a problem with it this year.
But don’t rush out and buy a bag of corn just yet. Corn can kill starving deer by causing a condition called acidosis.
What should you do? If your deer appear healthy, then nothing. If your deer appear to be struggling, you can feed them up to 2 gallons of feed a day within 100 yards of your residence under the state’s deer feeding rules.
“We have reports that are inconclusive or not confirmed, like maybe the foresters saw deer that appeared to be in the last stages of starvation, but until that deer dies — we check starvation levels by cracking femurs and we only do that on dead deer,” DNR Wildlife Outreach Technician Katie Keen said Friday.
Keen said starving deer will use the body fat in their bone marrow as a last resort and evidence of that has been seen in some areas of the northern Lower Peninsula.
“If that starts depleting, that’s how we know animals are stressed,” Keen said.
She said the areas where starvation is suspected are small areas.
“We have had occurrences where they check one deer and it’s good and another and it’s stressed,” Keen said. “They can be in the same county, just a little different location.”
She said individual deer can have problems while the rest of their group are fine. She said fawns often have trouble with their first winter.
But not every dead deer is a deer that died of starvation.
“Just the other day we had a deer hit two times by a car that died in someone’s yard, but without getting to that deer quickly we might not know how it died,” Keen said.
What can you do?
Keen said many landowners have called to ask what they can do.
“What you feed deer is important if you’re going to do it,” Keen said. “But there are rules behind feeding deer this time of year.”
She referenced the 2-gallon limit as well as that feeding must be done within 100 yards of a residence.
But just being in the rules isn’t always enough. You have to ask yourself whether you are putting deer in peril by feeding them.
“If you’re bringing deer in from long distances it could hurt them more than it helps,” Keen said. “We don’t want deer to travel long distances for food — that’s not what they’re built for in winter. They’re built to hunker down, stand up, eat and hunker down again.”
She explained the logic behind steering away from corn as winter feed.
“Corn in any large quantity is not good for deer,” Keen said. “Their stomachs are meant to break down wooded debris, not corn. It can actually ferment and cause acidosis. If they haven’t been eating corn and they gorge themselves on corn, it can kill them.”
More information on acidosis is available here: www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12150_12220-26508--,00.html
“What we recommend right now is good, high quality alfafa, which is going to be more costly for folks,” Keen said. She said pelletized goat food is also a good option. She said commercial wood cutters on public land have been asked to leave the tops for deer this year.
She suggested anyone who cuts firewood on their own land and is concerned about deer might want to cut some wood now and leave the tops out for the deer.
“Tree browse is what they’re built to eat this time of year,” Keen said.
Anyone who wants to report an observation of struggling or starving deer should visit www.michigan.gov/wildlife and click on the wildlife observation report.