Corn: Blessing or Curse?

The use of corn while deer hunting is a topic that spawns passionate arguments. Here some facts to consider when using corn.

Pros

Probably the biggest reason for corn’s popularity as a feed ingredient can be found in its nutrient profile. Energy, in the form of carbohydrates and fats/oils, make up the largest dietary need for all animals. Corn has a fat content of approximately 4 percent and is loaded with carbohydrates in the form of highly digestible starch. This combination makes corn akin to rocket fuel in terms of energy value.

When deer consume corn, it is rapidly digested by specific rumen microbes that feed largely on starch. The acids produced by this fermentation process can drop the pH in rumen by an amount proportional to the amount of corn consumed. If consumed in large amounts, the microbes responsible for fiber digestion (cellulose and hemicellulose) decrease in number due to lack of food and decreased pH.

The longer corn is consumed, the more the rumen microbial population shifts to a higher percentage of starch digesting microbes and the lower the pH will drop. As long as this process occurs gradually — and at least some forage or fiber is present in the diet — the deer’s rumen will adjust and few problems will occur.

Cons

If the corn is immediately taken away or no longer available following "slug" (binge) eating and deer return to a high fiber diet, the rumen microbial population cannot effectively digest the fibrous foods. Deer will effectively have little to no nutrients until the rumen population can adjust to the high-fiber diet. In essence, a type of starvation occurs.

Many diseases are spread via contact — whether directly or indirectly. So, the argument of a corn “pile” increasing the odds of spreading disease is a valid point, especially if practicing “slug” feeding. This will result in corn being present for multiple days, allowing several deer to use the same pile and increase the chances of disease transmission.

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