State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials discourage citizens from feeding deer, elk and other wildlife species during the winter.
The best way to help wild animals survive a severe winter is to maintain high-quality habitat plantings year-round, according to the department.
There are drawbacks to privately feeding deer or elk, according to the department:
• The expense to provide proper feed, in sufficient amounts, and for the length of time necessary to be effective.
• Concentrating deer and elk at a feeder can create problems by making animals more vulnerable to disease, predators and poaching.
• Feeding areas can draw animals across well-traveled roads and create safety hazards.
• Animals can damage nearby agricultural areas, trees and landscaping, especially if the feed is not maintained on a regular basis through April or until local, natural feed from plants are available.
• Deer and elk’s digestive systems often are not readily able to process many common types of human-provided feed. If they don’t have enough fat reserves to carry them through the digestive adjustment period, they can die of starvation, even with a belly full of processed feed they cannot digest.
If, after considering all the issues surrounding feeding deer in winter, a rural property owner chooses to feed, the best artificial deer feed is a pelleted ration that contains approximately 50 percent alfalfa and 50 percent grains, according to state wildlife officials. Barley and corn are the recommended grains. Some feed stores carry deer pellets, but a ration prepared for horses is also suitable if it is a “complete” formula. Elk are able to transition fairly quickly to alfalfa hay.
Once artificial feeding is begun, it should be continued through March or April until natural forage plants are available.