Oh my deer, I’m so hungry – A student project proposal

Proposal for a student project to quantify feeding motivation

This is a ‘recipe’ for a great student project aimed at quantifying feeding motivation of deer in a deer-park. Recipe by: Marc


In order to run this project you need the following:
1 or 2 motivated students
A teacher
A deer-park
Some bread
A plastic bag
A timer
A note book


Prep: 1 week
Cook (data-collection): 12-16 weeks (or so)
Finish (analyse & write report): 4-8 weeks

1. Objective: We want to quantify hunger in deer by showing differences in feeding motivation between moments of more and moments of lower anticipated hunger levels.

2. Preparation phase: You must find a contrast between moments expected to be associated with higher and lower feeding motivation, e.g. between days with more and fewer visitors, between days with better and worse weather conditions, or between morning and afternoon visits. You also need to find the most suitable primary and secondary parameters to record, e.g. day of the week, time of day, date, weather conditions, left-over food in the enclosure, latency to notice your arrival, speed of approach, number of animals gathering, distance over which you are being followed if you walk along the fence holding food.

3. Data collection: Record the above in a systematic way (using a protocol designed to avoid potential biases)

4. Analysis: Test whether deer were less motivated to feed on busy days, possibly depending on weather conditions and time of day.

5. Write the report: Finally, make one or more figure showing the results, and answer the question whether you succeeded in finding differences in feeding motivation in accordance with expectation, esp. that the more the deer have been fed, the less motivated they will be for being fed.


This setup can be used on other species as well, e.g. sheep, horses, cattle, pigs and ducks. Also, if the deer are normally fed with one type of food such as bread, it may be interesting to examine the effect of feeding something entirely different, e.g. the feeding of grass or twigs (but make sure you are not feeding toxic plants). It could also be used to test variables in learning, e.g. differences between different types of food or different cues predicting food. Another potentially interesting option is to use ambiguous cues as a measure of cognitive bias, and thus welfare.

Finally, if you like this idea, you could let me know, e.g. via a comment below this post.

Deer project

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