For wildlife, surviving an average Iowa winter is challenging enough. When the winter includes consecutive days where temperatures don’t cross above zero and new snow arrives weekly, survival can become extremely difficult.
“Every winter we lose wildlife but in winters like this, we do expect some additional mortality,” said Tyler Harms, deer program leader for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “While people may think it’s a good idea to put out a pile of corn for the deer to eat, it actually causes more harm than good. Perhaps the biggest issue with feeding deer is the increased risk of spreading disease through the local herd.”
Artificially congregating deer in close quarters, like over a pile of corn, increases the likelihood of disease transmission to other deer.
“All it takes is for one deer to be infected with a disease to stop by, feed on the corn and leave its saliva and urine behind for there to become an outbreak,” Harms said. “But beyond disease transmission, feeding deer can cause other health issues.”
In winter, a pile of corn is the equivalent to a pile of candy, Harms said, and too much candy is not good for anyone. “There is other food available that is better for them,” he said.
It’s also important to not set out grains because it changes deer behavior.
“When the snow is deep and it’s hard to find food, deer will adjust biologically to the situation to conserve energy,” he said. “They will congregate in places where there is shelter and they can conserve their energy. Placing food out will cause them to change that behavior, possibly expending more energy to get to the grain than they will gain by eating it.”
Those interested in helping deer to survive Iowa winters are encouraged to reach out to their local Iowa DNR wildlife biologist to discuss what types of habitat and food sources to install that benefit deer.