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Watching a deer doe and her fawn carefully step through your backyard or glimpse a majestic antlered buck in a misty forest glade is genuinely magical. But, when glimpsing a deer on your green, manicured lawn, the question arises: do deer eat grass?

Do Deer Eat Grass?

Under specific circumstances, deer will eat grass. Grass, however, is not the central part of the deer diet. Though they appear to spend time grazing on green, grassy areas, they are, in reality, foraging for forbs and herbs. They will eat grass when little else is available, but not as a primary food source.

If deer are such picky grass-eaters, what are the species of grass that they will eat? It is also worth noting that though they may appear to be eating grass, they are eating other plants between the grass. So the question arises: what do they eat the rest of the time, and what does their diet mainly consist of?

Types Of Grass Deer Eat

young doe on lush grass behind a tree

Grass does not form the central part of the deer’s diet. However, there are some grasses they like to eat. These include:

  • Wheat
  • Fescue grass
  • Ryegrass
  • Oats

Luckily, these are not the grasses that are usually found in backyards. This implies that though planted fields may be at risk of being munched by deer, most grasses in your yard should be safe.

What Grasses Will Deer Not Eat?

White tail deer on lawn in florida USA

Deer are primarily browsers. This means that they mainly live off the leaves of trees. Of their diet, approximately 85% consists of leaves from trees, young shoots, and forbs. Forbs are herbs that flower, but they are not grass. 

Many forbs are found in sunny open areas where grasses also grow. If deer are spotted in these areas, it might appear like they are eating grass, but they will actually eat the forbs intermingled with the grass. Therefore, one must observe carefully to notice the forbs they are eating.

This means that deer will not eat most grasses; they will not usually eat the most common grasses in your lawn. 

Do Deer Eat Ornamental Grasses?

Deer will rarely eat ornamental grasses; they are not part of the main diet of deer. Therefore, ornamental grasses should be safe from damage from deer. Though they might nibble occasionally, it should not be enough to inflict lasting damage.

But if you are worried, here are the specific ornamental grass species that deer will not eat:

  • Golden Hakone Grass 
  • Blue Fescue
  • Maiden Grass
  • Zebra Grass
  • Purple Fountain Grass
  • Black Mondo Grass

When Will Deer Eat Grass?

This said, there are specific circumstances under which deer will eat grass. This, however, is in times of dire need.

For example, too many deer in an area during a drought would result in constrained food resources, and deer could resort to eating grass. However, they will only eat grass when all other sources of nutrition have been depleted.

Deer will eat grass to fill their stomachs, but the nutritional value is so low and not utilizable by deer that they could still starve, even though they have eaten their fill. They can not survive and thrive on grass alone for any extended period. 

Why Do Deer Prefer Other Foods to Grass?

Deer are ruminants. Ruminants have four stomachs that, with the help of micro-organisms, enable the animal to eat, digest and utilize a variety of food.

Deer, however, have a comparatively small rumen relative to their body size; this means that feed will stay in their stomach for a shorter period than other ruminants. This differs from other ruminants, for example, cattle and sheep.

This relatively short digestion time limits the degree to which the food can be digested and absorbed, mainly feeds with higher fiber content. This results in the need for deer to eat relatively nutritious food, such as leaves and forbs, to ensure that they absorb enough nutrients while the food is in the stomach. 

Grasses, especially mature, warm-season perennial grasses, are relatively low in nutritional value, specifically during certain times of the year. Therefore, if deer were forced to eat these grasses, they would not be able to digest them properly and get a fair amount of nutrients from them, resulting in deer starving to death with a stomach full of grass.

The average grass does not contain enough easily digestible nutrients to be utilized by the deer’s specific digestive system. However, they can eat some highly nutritious grasses that are digestible during particular periods. Otherwise, deer will only feed on the grass in dire need.

What Do Deer Prefer to Eat?

Both the digestive system of deer and the physical shape of their tongues and mouths are adapted to eating highly nutritious feedstuffs: they are “concentrate selectors.” Because of the function of their digestive tracts, they need to eat food of high nutritional value. These would include forage like leaves, forbs, berries, and nuts.

Deer are not particularly fussy eaters; they have been known to eat a wide range of foodstuffs: more than 400 species during a single year. The food they eat will also differ depending on the season. Food that is selected ranges from leaves to nuts to berries, forbs, and lichen, and they sometimes nibble on planted crops. 

But they, like us, have their favorite food that they prefer, which makes up the majority of their diet. Forbs (herbs), leaves, and various seeds (or mast) are the foodstuffs they like, making up the most significant part of their diet. 

“Mast” can be divided into soft mast and hard mast. The hard mast consists of nuts and seeds of plants, while the soft mast consists of fruit and berries. These are highly seasonal, and deer regard them as the metaphorical (or not) “cherry on top.”

The deer will focus their foraging on the mast when it is available. Thus, their consumption of mast is highly seasonal and depends on availability.

The rest of the time, they concentrate on food such as leaves and forbs. They provide the bulk of the deer diet. Young plants or parts of plants tend to be particularly attractive. This is because the more youthful the tissue is, the more digestible and nutritious it is: fitting right with the deer’s digestive and nutritional needs.

Will My Lawn Grow Back If Deer It?

Since deer do not particularly like eating most grasses found in lawns, your lawn should be fine after an invasion of deer. Of course, in times of dire need, they may eat some of the grass. But this might be a sacrifice worth making for the beautiful experience of watching a deer tread lightly through your yard.

Verdict: Is Grass Deer Resistant?

Deer prefer to eat leaves, forbs, berries, and nuts. As such, most grasses will be deer resistant. However, some grasses are particularly unpalatable to deer; if you do not want deer in your yard, be sure to plant these grasses. 

This will ensure a deer-resistant lawn. 

Deer only eat grass when there is little or nothing else available. Grasses alone do not meet the nutritional requirements of deer. Their digestive systems are adapted to eat a variety of more nutritional substances, particularly mast, forbs, and leaves. 

This means that your lawn should be safe from damage inflicted by deer, particularly if you have planted suitable grass. Besides, isn’t it worth sacrificing a small part of your lawn to watch these amazing animals?

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