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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Pest of the Month: Deer

Pest of the Month: Deer

Wild animals are part of what makes nature so magical, and watching them can be highly enjoyable. While it’s important to coexist with animals in relative peace, they can cause countless problems when they take up residence in our homes or gardens. In this series, our Wildlife Management Specialist, Shawn Weeks, will educate us about some common household pests, and share some strategies for keeping them under control without dangerous chemicals or poisons.

This month we’ll look at Odocoileus virginianus, better known as the white-tailed deer.

Habitat and History
White-tailed deer are found throughout North America. The only U.S. states where they are not widespread are Alaska, Utah, Nevada, and California. Adult males weigh around of 150 pounds, with females averaging 110 pounds. They are graceful animals with conspicuous ears, narrow, pointed hooves, and long legs. Adult males have seasonal antlers, which begin to grow in spring with a “velvet” cover. The velvet is actually a soft and sensitive tissue. During the fall, the deer antlers begin to get hard and the deer scrape the velvet off on trees and saplings. They then use their antlers to spar with other males during the rut, or mating season. The antlers are then shed in early to mid winter. Antler size is determined by their genetics, age, and diet.

White-tailed deer have a coat of hair that is reddish-brown to tan in summer with short, thin hairs. In winter, it turns grayish-brown to gray and fills out with thick, long hairs. As the name implies, white-tailed deer have a bright white patch of fur on the underside of their tails. If they are scared, they raise their tails high, like a white flag, as they run away.

These deer do well in woodland forests with a vegetative understory, as well as in fields and meadows that are left to grow tall. Their favorite habitat however, is edge. Edge is the area between forests and fields. This is a major reason deer thrive in suburban areas where large yards border small woodlots.

Diet
The diet of white-tailed deer varies depending on the seasons. During the spring and summer, deer eat grasses and forbs, which contain protein. During the fall, deer focus their attention on acorns and other mast items. This mast diet is full of fat and carbs that the deer need to fatten up for the colder months, and the rut. During the winter, deer eat twigs and buds from different hardwood trees, and leaves from conifers such as white pine and hemlock.

Reproduction
The mating season, also known as the rut, starts at different times, depending on where the deer live. In the northern part of the United States, rut begins around late October and extends through early January. Fawns are usually born in late June. In other areas, the rut may occur earlier or later, depending on the climate. Newborn fawns generally weigh between four and eight pounds. They are dependent on their mothers until, and sometimes through, September, when they are weaned. The doe, or female, usually has one to four fawns, depending on her age and general health. Twins are not an uncommon occurrence.

Problems, Solutions and Health Concerns
One method for managing white-tailed deer on your property is hunting, if it is safe and legally acceptable to do so where you live. If hunting is not an option for you, whether because it goes against your principles or because you live in an area where it is prohibited, you can use other methods to protect your crops and vegetation.

Perhaps the most effective way of keeping deer off your property is with a deer fence. Deer fences are easy to install, although they can be rather costly, especially if you own a lot of land. In my wildlife management practice, I have installed literally miles of deer fencing with great success for my clients. Generally, it is installed around the perimeter of a property. Gates can be installed in specific locations where the customer wants access to certain areas of the property. Deer fencing should be at least eight feet high to be effective. White-tailed deer have been known to jump as high as six to seven feet on a full run. Most deer fencing is black polypropylene mesh, which blends in well with forested landscapes. It should be inspected regularly for damage.

One could also install electric, high tensile wire fencing. This type of fencing can work well for protecting one’s crops from deer browse. Another solution for property owners would be to fence around individual bushes, islands and vegetation that you want protected. With this method, it’s not necessary to use such a tall fence. Shorter chicken wire fencing is sufficient for this application.

There are also numerous commercial repellents on the market today. Some of these repellents work very well. However, they should be thought of as a maintenance application. They will all need to be reapplied after every rain shower or heavy dew. You can also use homemade repellents. Some effective homemade repellents to try include human hair tied in mesh sacks around the plants you want to protect, bone meal, soap shavings, and liquid hot pepper spray.

A number of other preventive measures can also be effective. Planting away from hedge rows or tree lines could help. Planting ornamentals that deer do not like can also have a positive effect. These include columbine, coneflower, goatsbeard, St. John’s Wort, meadowsweet, marjoram, peonies, trillium, foxglove, lavender, verbena, and many others. However, many plants that were once unpalatable to deer, such as boxwood, holly, and rhododendron, are sometimes eaten in places where there is a large population of deer. In the state of Connecticut, for instance, an exceptionally large deer herd creates a huge amount of pressure for food. Some parts of the state have been estimated to have as many as 35 deer per square mile. However this is not the “norm”.

Due to the fact that deer are a wild animal and can be unpredictable, the most beneficial strategy is to employ a combination of methods to keep deer from harming your crops, ornamentals, and understory. Applying repellent to shrubs could be effective along your front porch, while a mesh fence around the corn behind your barn would be a necessity. Just remember that, while deer are a beautiful, stately animal, they can be extremely persistent and can cause a lot of property damage if not managed diligently.

As always, Shawn can be via e-mail at info@weeksoutdoors.comfor advice or a free consultation.

24 comments

1 Julie { 05.11.14 at 10:12 am }

My solution? A dog. She chases them away from the garden, we live on ten acres in the country and it is very effective. We love deer, but we love our garden. Our dog doesn’t hurt the deer because the deer would kick her butt, but she is a very effective deterrent.

2 glenda { 03.30.14 at 9:21 pm }

I use 2 raw eggs beaten and added to 1 gal of hot water sprinkled around my garden or shrubs. They will not come near them. Won’t keep raccoons or possums out. They will come much more because they like rotten food. But no deer or rabbits.

3 nicole holcomb { 10.03.11 at 12:56 pm }

I ment but goodness courtney but thanx for the help on the deer problem !

4 nicole holcomb { 10.03.11 at 12:51 pm }

umm buzzsaw an 8 foot fence don’t mean anything honey I’ve tried it ok it don’t help that much believe me !

5 nicole holcomb { 10.03.11 at 12:49 pm }

I can’t keep racoons out of my corn feild I mean they are cute an all be goodness

6 kw { 09.23.11 at 6:43 am }

I have tried everything to keep deer out of my garden i live in defuniak springs florida the secret to keeping deer out of my garden is called REMINGTON 870 works well,

7 Maureen { 09.18.11 at 11:11 am }

We live in the High Plains Desert of rural Central Nevada for many years and until recently did not have problems with deer. Having a neighbor across the street feeding the deer did not help. Once they arrived, we discovered that they were jumping the perimeter fence and demolishing our drawf tree orchard and grape vines. We tried several methods to “repel” deer.

We began with our 90′ x 90′ food garden, using light duty garden posts to extend the existing T-posts and wrapping fiber and nylon ropes around the garden perimeter. This method was successful in keeping the deer out, but the rope sagged from rain and wind, and started to decay from the sun.

Many factors were learned and taken into consideration such as some of the repellents just do not work, the cost of reapplying on a constant basis, the damage some of the repellents did to the trees and grapevines, the winds, the rain and sun decay of the rope, and county ordinances, we came to the decision to extend the perimeter fence T-posts with light duty garden posts every ten feet and snuggly (not tight) wrapping electrical fencing tape around the posts. The extension is about 2′ above the existing fence. The garden posts have tabs that can be closed on the tape, which is fiber and metal. The tape was given one twist before the it was carefully tapped into the tabs, so when the wind blew, it would twist the tape. The tape, also, gives off a sound when it twists. There is a limited amount of color but we went with the white tape.

We decided on the electrical fence tape because of its length in one continuous roll and the strength of it by having the metal in the tape. So far, it is working out very well. At first, the deer had problems jumping out of our yard and stopped dead in their tracks at the fence. Once in a while, we would see deer track along the outside of the perimeter fence, but no indications of jumping the fence. Now, we find no tracking at all. Once our perimeter trees have caught up and grow to the height of the tape, the posts and tape will be removed.

8 Mark Taft { 09.18.11 at 2:25 am }

Egg whites. Just put 3-4 egg whites in a 2 gal sprayer and spray the protein on the plants. I was told it’s the protein they reject.

9 Frutero { 09.17.11 at 6:14 pm }

Instead of getting rid of your dogs, you should have put a big Rhode Island Red rooster in with your chickens. He’d likely have run the deer off, too.

10 judy Delaney { 09.16.11 at 7:51 pm }

Go to the nearest dog groomer and ask for a bag of dog hair. Put this into panty hose, and section it off with string, then cut the sections. Place the sections into the base of your shrubs. Great replellent.

11 barb hollenbeck { 09.15.11 at 9:01 am }

I do companion gardening & plant to repel garden pests. i plant onions around the perimeter of my garden- the young animals taste for a couple of days but spit onion out. i replant it & they leave my garden alone. u can plant garlic around the perimeter in fall & add the onions in the spring. i also plant vine crops throughout- the prickles on plant work excellent as a deterrent! an organic remedy is using dehydrated onion & garlic sprinkled around perimeter also. the reason i use dehydrated is everytime it rains its stronger. reapply about once a month if wet year. i live in nys- on top of hill with waaaay too many deer & have done the border of onions & or garlic for 12 years & they havent bothered my garden. the plus to this repellant is u harvest it at the end of the season! I also plant animal loving veggies in center of garden as border & vine crops work so well as a deterrent!

12 Outdoorsman { 09.15.11 at 6:59 am }

I think it’s nice to get along with your neighbors but, you do what you gotta do on your land!

13 Richard Johnson { 09.15.11 at 6:45 am }

The dog thing works to keep the deer away, But my dogs begin to kill and eat my chickens, Got rid of the dogs.

14 Lauren Caruso { 09.14.11 at 11:16 pm }

Pamela…..If your neighbors won’t cooperate and keep their pet deer off your land, then you will most likely at some point “get into it” with them. I understand your frustration, which is why in my earlier post I mentioned if you feed wild deer, your neighbors have to be OK with it. But this one you’re dealing with is a pet! I wish I had one, and I’ll tell you what…..if there was a problem with one of my neighbors I would take the deer to Turpentine Creek, a local refuge for Big Cats and other wildlife. It’s not right that your neighbor won’t acknowledge the problem.

15 Frutero { 09.14.11 at 6:10 pm }

Get hold of a big, unaltered, male hound and lead him to make weewee around the perimeter you want to protect. Such a dog’s urine is strong enough to make invaders think of wolf, and it works not only on deer, but frequently on raccoons and foxes. I have an entire male hound-Lab mix, and his presence seems to have a deterrent effect even without leading him on a “hit parade”.

16 Dori Bon { 09.14.11 at 3:59 pm }

Foliar spray any area that deer graze with fish emulsion and they will stop eating the applied area.

17 Lauren Caruso { 09.14.11 at 3:01 pm }

I’m from the Chicago area, and relocated to NW Arkansas in 2005. My home is on several acres, and the deer are here year round. We love to watch them meander around, but yes they eat our gardens down to a nub if we allow it. We put out fresh water for them as long as it’s above freezing, and small amounts of whole corn during the winter months. Our neighbors do the same thing with water and corn, and we’re all on the same page with the deer. Our homes are all about 1/2 mile to a mile a part, so the deer know they can come here for water and a little corn. To keep the deer from demolishing our gardens, we use a product called Deer Stopper, and it’s safe for fish, domestic animals and the ground. It’s all natural, and the main ingredients are rosemary oil, mint oil & vinegar. It works. I don’t advise feeding wild deer unless you know what you’re doing. They carry diseases, ticks and other parasites. Plus, everyone of your neighbors needs to know what you’re doing and be OK with it. People feel very strongly about this on both sides.

18 buzzsaw { 09.14.11 at 2:50 pm }

ive decided that a tall 8′ fence is finally my choice as the deer seem to know right when the garden is ready for them to eat. i live in the city limits but there still here.

19 Pamela Kutscher { 09.14.11 at 1:23 pm }

My problem is not with the normal wild deer but with a “tame” deer raised by a neighbor. She is not afraid of anything and the detterrants I have used to repel the wild deer do not work with her. She comes right up on my porch and nibbles my houseplants! I have assaulted her with paintball guns, thrown rocks, etc and all that has done is teach her to avoid the hours that I am out and about. Totally fencing my property with deer fence would be cost prohibitive. I am trying to raise crops for the local Farmer’s Market. I have approached the neighbors with offers to help find a safe refuge for her but they are resistant.
Aside from getting a permit to remove a nuisance animal (which would put me at odds with my neighbors)–does anyone have any ideas?

20 Linda { 09.14.11 at 12:52 pm }

We live in NW arkansas. To repell deer, we have had success by spraying some inexpensive perfume or cologne around plants they bothering. Be sure to reapply after a rain or watering. Any suggestions for armadillos? They have been cultivating my flower gardens this week.

21 Outdoorsman { 09.14.11 at 12:15 pm }

That’s funny James!!! You know, you can both be happy by putting up mesh fences around your garden and apple trees. Deer fencing is easy to install, maintain, and tear down when needed.
Just a thought….

22 Barbara Lee { 09.14.11 at 11:03 am }

The other problem with deer are the deer ticks that they leave behind! Any suggestions on treating my yard?

23 Sarah { 09.14.11 at 10:54 am }

We have a small deer eating our corn, since we don’t have a big garden, it is quite problematic. However, our garden is small because we have a very small lawn and a lot of neighbors. Hopefully, it moves on to harass someone else!

24 James Hrubesky { 09.14.11 at 9:38 am }

My wife and I live out in rural Oconto County in NE Wisconsin. We get deer all summer and fall. They eat my apples and raid my garden,but my wife thinks that they are cute so I guess I have to live with them!

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