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Why do deer eat pine needles?
I've often heard that the needles from certain pine trees can be toxic to livestock, including Ponderosa pines. Every winter, I watch deer on my property munching down on Ponderosa pine needles that they pull directly from the limbs.
I'm wondering if there's any truth to the claims that they are toxic to livestock. And, if so, why aren't they also toxic to deer?
I am sure they are eating the new growth (buds), but in the process nibble the needles at the same time.
I was listening to and walking around with a biologist in a remote area in Alaska. She had us eat some new growth pine needles. She said that they were very high in vitamin C and she puts them in her salads which were comprised of mostly native plants with cheese and dressing. They had a pretty good flavor.
If pregnant cows get into pine needles at certain times when other foods are scarce it can cause them to abort. Snow storms that trap the cattle in the mountains are a real concern.
Yeah, I've heard of making tea from pine needles for the vitamin C, as well.
I agree it's the new growth the deer eat. I have several varieties of evergreens on my place. It's just odd to me that it's only the Ponderosa pines they eat. I've never seen my horses nibble on any of the evergreen trees. I'm sure it's some difference with their digestive systems, but I don't know....
O. CURRIE, D. W. REICHERT, J. C. MALECHEK, AND 0. C. WALLMO Highlight: Cattle and mule deer competed very little for forage on a central Colorado ponderosa pine-bunchgrass range during the spring-summer-fall grazing season. Species they selected for the bulk of their diets were quite different. Diets overlapped most for fringed sagebrush and sunsedge. Fringed sagebrush was used heavily by both deer and cattle in April-May. Sunsedge was cnsumed in small amounts by both animals throughout most of the grazing season. Management of the timber stand increased forage for both types of animals. Also, timber stand improvement practices resulted in short-term availability of dried pine needles, a preferred deer food. From spring through fall, mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) frequently occupy the same rangelands as cattle throughout the ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) type of the central Rocky Mountains. These summer ranges provide a wide diversity of plants available as forage for both species of animals. There are questions, however, as to whether or not the two animals prefer the same plant species, and which plants comprise the bulk of the diet for each. In addition, commercial logging of ponderosa pine, a common practice on many of these lands, may affect the foraging habits of the mule deer. The objectives of this study were to compare diet selections of deer and cattle on pine-bunchgrass ranges on an area that had been commercially logged and received post harvest timber stand improvement. Observations were made at intervals from spring through fall, when there was joint use of these ranges. Some deer also used these ranges at other times of the year but not in direct competition with cattle. Several studies have indicated that competition for forage between cattle and deer is minimal on properly stocked, moderately grazed ranges (McMahan 1964; Skovlin et al. 1968; McKean 1971; and Dusek 1975). On ponderosa pine-bunchgrass ranges in Oregon, Skovlin et al. (1968) found that moderate cattle grazing provided for full use of the forage with little or no effect on deer use. They also found deer preferred Currie and Reichert are range scientist and range research technician, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, with central headquarters maintained at Fort Collins in cooperation with Colorado State University. Malechek is assistant professor, College of Natural Resources, Utah State University, Logan. Wallmo is wildlife biologist, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Juneau, Alaska, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station with central headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Manuscript received January 15, 1977. pastures managed under a deferred-rotation system over those grazed seasonlong, and showed a high preference for forested habitat. They concluded that "there was no evidence of direct competition between big game and cattle for any particular food plant on the study areas." In Arizona, Neff (1974) determined that mule deer ate almost 100 taxa in the ponderosa pine type, but in each season of the year, only 10 taxa provided from 67 to 95% of the total forage consumed. Chemical analyses of the simulated monthly diets from late spring through early summer showed forage quality declined as the seasons advanced, but dietary nutrients were usually adequate for growth and production of mule deer (Umess et al. 1975a; 1975b). Deer and cattle diets were not compared in these studies, but the results provided insight into the adequacy of ponderosa pine-bunchgrass ranges to support mule deer.
We have deer in our neighborhood. Anytime a tree goes down or a new Tree appears like a discarded Christmas tree. The deer hammer it. I’m guessing it’s because it’s winter time and they are hungry for anything
I see them eating pine needles on my property all the time. They eat old dried up ones too. What amazes me more is I have never seen them eat the scrub oak acorns.