With food sources covered by snow, deer take to livestock feed supplies

Shannon Marvel

It’s been a harsh winter in northeastern South Dakota for both humans and wildlife, including more than 200 deer on a Ferney man’s property.

Densley Zambo, 90, lives about 11 miles southeast of Ferney and said a couple hundred “starving” deer have taken refuge on his land.

“They’re there all day and all night,” Zambo said.

Some of the deer appear to have injured legs from trudging through the snow, but have pounded out trails to his front yard.

Zambo said he’s spent about $1,000 on food for the deer.

“If I feed them, they’ll stay off the neighbor’s property,” he said.

Zambo suspects the animals’ natural food has been covered up by mounds of snow. He said he has called the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department to help the deer, but to no avail.

“They will not feed the deer,” Zambo explained. “Why not set so much money aside to feed these deer?”

The state has programs to help landowners whose livestock feed supplies are being consumed by wildlife, said GFP Regional Supervisor Mike Klosowski in Watertown, but it doesn’t just feed deer or other wildlife.

“We have a wildlife damage management program. That program really has a very wide objective, and that objective is to reduce or alleviate depredation issues that private landowners have on the private countryside,” he explained.

“That might be livestock loss due to coyotes feeding on calves. A lot of the other issues we help are wildlife depredating on livestock feed. (With) the cold temperatures and snow we’ve been having, a number of deer are going into farmsteads and depredating on their livestock feed. Our program focuses on how we can alleviate that damage. It can be very costly for that landowner to have those deer come in there,” he said.

Klosowski said the state will provide panels and permanent stacks to protect livestock feed from the deer. And the public can sign up to have the state schedule a depredation hunt to shoot deer, he said.

Another option the state offers is to have staff put out some hay for the deer on their trails to stop them short of reaching the livestock feed.

“We will go down that trail and put some hay out there to eat so they don’t come into the farmyard,” Klosowski said. `“Basically, what we’re trying to do is alleviate the farmer’s issue with the feed supplies. Those tools primarily focus on protecting stored feed supplies. In terms of feeding deer, program efforts alleviate the damage, but we don’t just feed deer to feed deer. One, it’s very costly.”

The state offers a food plot program as a proactive way to provide feed for wildlife. With it, the state provides seed and pays for the groundwork for landowners to create a food plot on their property, he said.

But feeding deer outright is something wildlife officials discourage.

“Nationally, there is some growing concern about wildlife disease and feeding, particularly with chronic wasting disease. Feeding deer to help them get through a harsh winter, you could potentially be making that worse and spreading that disease and causing more issues,” Klosowski explained.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal brain disease in deer, elk and moose and has been detected in several counties West River, he said.

“Once a deer gets it, it’s incurable and they may live for a period of time after they’re infected and can potentially pass it on. So that’s real problematic. There’s a growing concern nationwide,” he said.

Feeding deer corn can also be problematic to their health.

“Deer that are in a starving condition — putting corn out there for them to eat can have a negative effect on them,” Klosowski said. “It can make them sick or kill them. They’re more prone to that when they haven’t had food for a long period of time.”

The condition is called acidosis, he added.

Anyone who finds dead deer is encouraged to report them to GFP so the death can be investigated, Klosowski said.

More than 100 deer search for food at Densley Zambo’s property near Conde on Feb. 22.
Densley Zambo points to where he put out food for more than 100 deer on his property near Conde.
Deer forage in a field of corn stubble west of Aberdeen on Feb. 20. 
A small herd of deer run graze in a field near the U.S. Highway 281 bypass on the north side of Aberdeen on Feb. 20. 
Deer graze in a frosty pasture as a train passes by in the background on Feb. 22. 
More than 100 deer search for food at Densley Zambo's property near Conde on Feb. 22. 

• Those interested in the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department's food plot program can learn more at

• More information about the GFP depredation programs can be found at