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Do Deer Eat Hay?

Have you ever wondered whether you can feed hay to deer? Many people want to find foods that are suitable for deer to eat, and hay is commonly eaten by many grazing animals that seem similar to deer, and it’s also readily available and fairly cheap to buy.

All of these things might lead you to wonder whether you can use hay as a source of food for deer.

It’s important to make sure that anything you give to deer is suitable for them to eat, or you could do more harm than good, especially if you feed the deer during the winter.

Deer will quickly come to depend upon you as a source of food, and if you are feeding them the wrong things, they may get sick. Knowing how to feed deer is crucial if you want to help them out.

Unlike many similar animals, deer are browsers, rather than grazers, which means that they mostly live on woody vegetation, rather than greenery such as grass.

This means that they need quite different things from their diet, and the foods that you would offer to a grazer such as a cow may not be suitable for giving to a deer.

So, if you’ve ever wondered “do deer eat hay?” you probably aren’t alone, because it isn’t as straightforward as it might seem.

Do Deer Eat Hay?

Deer will eat hay, but there is a lot of debate about whether hay is good for them, and it’s important to understand how a deer’s habits will change in the winter.

Hay can be very problematic for deer, because it’s usually made from coarse grasses, and deer often struggle to digest these quickly enough to get the nutrients that they need from the food.

If their stomachs are full of hay, they cannot then eat the food that they can digest more quickly, and this could result in a deer starving, even though it has food in its stomach – it can’t digest it quickly enough to use this food.

This is less of an issue in the summer, because deer have high levels of microorganisms in their stomachs, and these help them to effectively digest hay.

In the winter, as deer move onto a diet of twigs and woody plants, the microorganisms will die off, and therefore deer will find it much harder to digest things like hay.

If a deer keeps eating hay, this may be enough to keep the microorganisms thriving, but it’s better not to have deer depending upon hay in the winter.

Another potential issue is that if deer find a source of hay when they are already in starvation mode and eating very little, they tend to gorge themselves on it.

When they do this, they stuff their stomachs, which shocks their systems, and this will often kill them.

What Kind Of Hay Can Deer Eat?

Deer can theoretically eat any kind of hay, but they are unlikely to do so unless they are very hungry indeed, and they will almost always favor alfalfa hay over timothy hay or other kinds of hay.

If you want to feed deer hay, give them alfalfa, rather than the kinds of hay that you might feed to cattle or horses. They are more likely to eat this and will probably get better nutrition from it.

Other hay may be made of weeds, ryegrass, brome, etc., but deer will often refuse to eat this, although they may pick alfalfa hay out of it if there is a mix bundled together. On the whole, deer won’t go for other kinds of hay unless they are close to starving.

If deer can access vegetation on the ground, in trees, or on bushes, they will usually eat this over any kind of hay, even alfalfa.

This means dear are unlikely to bother with hay that you have put out unless snow is covering the ground. They may sometimes nibble at hay in the summer, but many people find that they completely ignore it at all times of the year.

Should You Feed Wild Deer Hay?

On the whole, it is best not to feed wild deer hay unless you don’t have access to a better food for them, because it could cause major issues if the deer don’t have the microorganisms needed to properly digest the hay.

You should only feed wild deer if you are able to provide them with a consistent source of food, and if so, it’s better to choose other options.

However, if you feed them hay throughout the year and therefore help them to keep the microorganisms in their stomachs thriving, you will greatly reduce the risks associated with feeding them hay.

If you are going to feed deer hay, only give them it in small amounts to reduce the risk of them eating so much that they kill themselves. This should prevent bloating and overly full stomachs, while still providing them with a source of food.

It is probably best not to feed wild deer hay, but this may be better than nothing if you have no alternatives.

If possible, try to combine this with other food sources to keep the deer’s strength up, and remember that they are predominantly browsers, especially in the winter. Don’t treat them as grazers by providing full bales of hay for them to eat.


The quick answer to “do deer eat hay?” is yes, they do, but it is important to remember that they would not naturally eat large quantities of a grass-like substance in winter, and this can be pretty dangerous to them. Feeding deer on hay is not a great idea because they may struggle to digest it, and if they fill their stomachs with something that they can’t digest, they will soon starve to death. They need plenty of other foods in the winter, and if you are going to feed them, it’s a good idea to scatter a mix of suitable foods, such as oats, ready made deer mixes, corn, and other similar options.