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Friday, March 25, 2011

Where Has Bambi Gone?

As spring approaches I think of my deer. Not that I have any deer, as they have gone. I’ve done everything I can think of to bring them back. In this article I ponder this, and what has happened to them in the dynamics of my neighborhood. If you have deer, take care of them because they may be gone before you know it.

From Argentina to the Canadian tundra, deer rate from pests to being, ‘dear’ and are deemed important enough to research Red Deer on Rum. (See “Deer Trivia” the end of the article for an explanation.)

You see, my house came with 3 deer. The first year having them was lovely. The second year they were suddenly gone. Lamenting to my neighbor across the street, she informed me that our next door neighbor had them. That’s weird, because that neighbor had done everything to keep the deer out of his yard and garden. He put up fences and ordered special plants. He built a 6-foot high fence around his tomatoes. The deer ate his plants anyway.

I read articles about building fences, even electric fences. I’m here to tell you, my neighbor across the street has an electric fence to keep her horses in, yet the deer lithely leap over to eat her tender grasses. Searching the Internet I found that the best fence is 8 foot with a barbed wire top that bends outward. Another article, however, swears that deer can still clear that.

My smart neighbor down the way covers her plants with cages made of chicken wire or plastic fencing so the deer can’t forage on her hydrangea. Other stuff that works is to tie bright flashing strips from Mylar potato chip bags around the plants so that the strips move in the wind. I also read somewhere that deer hate badger’s urine if you want to send in $17.99 and shipping.

The World Deer Organization site says that deer will only eat crops when there is an overpopulation, but the home gardener knows, it only takes one deer to ruin the roses and tomatoes.

Living in deer country, I learned what deer are and are not willing to eat in and around my property. Deer are creatures of habit. They forage on the same paths perhaps for a thousand years before man came along and made it a nerve-racking experience. It seems the deer don’t really like men, or women for that matter, and will stay away from us except for the delicious trees, grains and vegetables we plant.

Hubby and I learned by accident, if you want them to stay away, the simplest solution is to collect your urine in a can, mix it 50/50 with water and pour it around plants you want to protect. Before you curl your nose at the notion I want to tell you that my husband and I discovered this simple solution when we were using it as a free source of fertilizer. The plants love it and the deer vanished overnight. It seems they really hate the stuff. They even avoid the other side of the house, I was unhappy to learn. The deer path, you see, just happens to be our path. The deer kept it clear of tall grass, weeds, saplings and blackberry bushes. When the deer disappeared from our back yard, I had to get a weed-whacker and a machete.

Researching how to attract them back, searching for favorite deer foods woefully came up short. I checked Wikipedia but it says nothing about how to attract or repel deer. It just tells of their biology or lack of it where deer are scarce. The only article I found that told how to lure deer was by a hunter’s association with the intention of shooting them.

Thinking about it, though, this can work as a good strategy to keep the deer away. Not shooting them, I mean putting attractive plants far, far away from the yard and garden. Luckily the deer have let me know by their grazing habits what they really love and what they hate.

Deer can’t or won’t eat rhododendrons, laurel or ivy. Careful if you have cattle, horses, rabbits or even chickens, because these plants can stop their digestion cold. I made the mistake of building my new chicken coup next to a laurel bush and lost 5 chickens before I learned of the poisonous nature of the berries. :(

The deer came back briefly. I saw the fawns foraging on my blackberry vines. I never saw a dandelion when they were around, so their eating habits aren’t all bad. Deer droppings are the most powerful fertilizing dung. I noticed this because the plants where they deposit their droppings have the most lush growth and fruit. The only blackberries Hubby and I bother to pick are the ones the deer frequent.

Remember the reasons you moved into the countryside in the first place? Deer are our friends. They keep down the weeds, mow the grass, beautify the neighborhood and give us free fertilizer. The World Deer Group tells that deer are much more efficient at converting food they graze on, than cattle.

So, if you want to get the deer out, attract them to another area. Improve their habitat by planting rye grass, decorative trees, apples and especially white oak. Other favorites are roses, tomatoes, berry bushes, nuts and weeds. Make water and a salt lick available where you want them to be. Then go home and pour urine mixed with water 50/50 around your tender yard and garden plants. And for trying to keep them out by building deer fences? As one purveyor of deer fences says, if you do build a fence, remember to also build a gate. ;)

Deer Trivia: What exactly does it mean to research Red Deer on Rum?

Answer: Researchers regularly study the Red Deer that live on the Scottish isle of Rum. ;)

For more information contact the World Deer Organization: http://www.worlddeer.org/  

A fun article about a positive deer experience is, “Deer in the yard.” http://www.pelorian.com/deer.html