I follow the Maine Wildlife Facebook page, and saw a post about the winter feeding of deer that caught my attention. To be honest, I figured it was probably just about folks up north who have a deer feeding station, and how cool it is to see all the deer gathered round to feed on the delicious corn left out for them. And it was kind of about that, but much more sad.

As I looked more closely at the photos and read the comments, I noticed there seemed to be something wrong with the poor deer in the photos. His hooves were long and gnarled up, and it looked like he needed to have a pedicure. It's a process called foundering. It looks like this:

Photo via in.gov
Photo via in.gov

According to this article at qdma.com, if a deer eats too may high-energy, high-carb foods, it disrupts their ability to digest food. They rely on gut bacteria to process foods, and this is usually a gradual transition that happens slowly between winter and fall. If they begin to eat high carb foods too quickly, and in large quantities, it disrupts the proper production of this bacteria in their bellies, and causes this elongation of the hooves.

Since there are no reliable sources of pedicures in the woods for deer, eventually it causes them to end up basically walking on their ankles, because the long hooves cause their feet to curl outward.

Eventually, they will not be able to outrun predators, or stay properly mobile, and will eventually starve. If you do see one during hunting season, they are totally safe to eat. In fact, you'd probably be doing it a favor by putting it out of its misery.

It's really sad to see these beautiful creatures suffer this way. And mostly it's our fault. We, as people, hate to see the animals go without food, but when we intervene inappropriately, it upsets nature's balance. It's no different than feeding squirrels or raccoons or whatever. eventually, they stop looking for food, because we keep putting it out there for them.

If you really feel like you need to feed them, consult a wildlife expert that might be able to tell you the proper way to do it. It's nice to give Mother Nature a hand, but we shouldn't overdo.

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