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Do's and don'ts of supplemental wildlife feeding

By Staff
Jan. 5, 2001
Beware of feeding corn to wildlife. Many well-meaning hunters and landowners practice supplemental feeding to benefit deer, turkeys, songbirds and other wildlife, especially in winter.
But feeding corn can do more harm than good. Here is why.
A couple of fungi that commonly thrive in corn produce chemical byproducts called aflatoxins that are toxic to humans and animals. Virtually no shelled corn can be considered free of aflatoxins.
The Food and Drug Administration allows harmless amounts of the toxic substances in corn destined for human and animal consumption. The threshold is 20 parts per billion (ppb). When aflatoxin levels are too high for food and feed purposes, contaminated corn finds its way to the wildlife feed market.
This is a common occurrence and aflatoxin is a widespread contaminant. Virtually all corn that is not labeled with a designated aflatoxin level should be considered to have high amounts of aflatoxins. The fact that it is cheap and often sold in bulk or in unlabeled bags is evidence that it likely was rejected for food and feed.
What harm?
Ingested aflatoxins may not produce observable symptoms in deer. Not enough is known about harm that the toxins do to deer, though one study showed liver damage in deer fed feed with 800 ppb aflatoxins.
Animals that consume large amounts of aflatoxins have been observed to display loss of appetite and coordination, difficulty breathing, convulsions and sudden death. Even lower levels of aflatoxin caused reduced liver function, reduced weight gain and an impaired immune system which can cause affected animals to be vulnerable to other diseases.
But the hazard to wild turkeys is unmistakable. In short, if you feed wildlife corn that has high levels of aflatoxins you are likely to harm and perhaps kill wild turkeys that feed on it. Sportsmen who practice supplemental feeding of corn for deer should be aware of the hazard to wild turkeys.
There is a particularly hazardous practice that should be avoided; spreading corn on the bare ground. This exposes the corn kernels to ground moisture, dew and rain. Moisture is a primary requirement for fungus growth.
With the fungi that cause aflatoxins almost certainly present in feed corn, their growth is enhanced by the presence of moisture. Exposed corn can become an ideal environment for aflatoxin buildup. If you feed corn, use covered feed troughs or sealed dispensing feeders.
Otha Barham is Outdoors Editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at