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Supplemental feeding of game species is a bad idea

By James E. “Jim” Miller
Professor Emeritus, Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Aquaculture
MSU Extension Service

Portrait of Jim Miller
Dr. Jim Miller

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Offering feed to wildlife is a trend gaining traction in newspaper outdoor columns, outdoor magazines, catalogs, ads and campfire discussions, but the practice can be harmful to wildlife.

Manufacturers of such feeds encourage landowners and managers to offer supplemental feeding for a variety of game wildlife species. Simply stated, supplemental feeding is the practice of making foods other than natural vegetation and agricultural crops available for wildlife. Supplemental food is frequently offered to targeted species with the intention of viewing or hunting the animals drawn to the food source.

Advertisers claim that supplemental feeding will help animals survive hard winters, help bucks grow bigger antlers and bodies, help bucks replenish their bodies following the rut, help does produce more milk and help wild turkeys to be more productive and larger.

These claims are all false, according to wildlife research conducted over the past 50 years.

White-tailed deer and most other wildlife are seasonally selective feeders. Mississippi’s white-tailed deer, turkey and other wildlife resources are not domesticated livestock that require humans to provide food. In fact, feeding these animals can do more harm than good. Wild animals depend on and are sustained by good habitat, not supplemental feed.

There are several reasons supplemental feeding is bad for wildlife. For example, it can decrease wildlife’s natural fear of humans. Supplemental feeding also encourages higher densities of wildlife in smaller areas. This, in turn, can spread disease between animals and even between different species. In addition, the increase in population increases competition for resources like food, water and cover.

Often, animals damage the habitat in which the supplemental feed is spread. The damage can be expensive and time-consuming to repair.

Before considering supplemental feeding, landowners and managers should manage available habitat to benefit wildlife species year-round. Landowners can try disking in fall or prescribed burning to benefit both target and non-target species. Other methods include planting strategically placed food plots or simply leaving random sections of crops in the field to provide attractive cover.

Food plots are not considered supplemental feeding for a variety of reasons. Most notably, food plot establishment and output varies and depends on placement, effort, weather and appropriate liming and/or fertilization treatment. Food plots are also always available for use by wildlife. They do not require continuous replenishing and replicate natural food sources.

Supplemental feeding of free-ranging wildlife also tends to be very expensive. In contrast, managing land to provide food and habitat is much less costly.

Some of the best-managed and most productive wildlife resources in our state do not bait or supplemental feed free-ranging wildlife on their properties. However, they do manage the habitat and populations in a productive and sustainable manner.

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Released: March 28, 2014
Contact: Dr. Jim Miller, 662-325-2619

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[Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a new column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Dr. Marina Denny is a natural resources extension educator with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.]