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Deer, deer prairie pests.

Moose, elk and deer are all members of the family Cervidae (Cervids) which total some 41 species worldwide. In Canada we have to contend with white-tailed deer, the number one pest, moose (called elk in Europe), mule or black-tailed deer and elk (called red deer in Europe). Caribou species (called reindeer in Europe) are seldom if ever pests.

In the absence of natural predators, such as wolves, wolverines, cougars and grizzly bears, our deer population shows strong signs of getting out of control. This is more so as a consequence of the noninfectious chronic wasting disease of deer, a disease that has always been around. Negative publicity on this disease has caused a significant drop in deer hunting in Canada.

For those amongst us who insist that the deer were here first, tell them they are wrong. On the natural grass prairies of several hundred years ago there were no white-tailed deer or moose since there were virtually no shrubs to browse. The whole of the western prairie was a fire subclimax zone, ensuring that there were abundant grasses but little or no wood lots or scrub. Land enclosure in the last 100 years has brought about an unnatural reforestation of the prairies. On the "old" grass prairie, the dominant animals were buffalo, antelope and elk, all grazers. The shrub browsers such as white-tailed deer, mule deer and moose existed in low numbers in river valleys, but were generally found in western mountains and northern forests and wetlands well away from the prairies. Moose and white-tail were also easy prey for wolves in open prairie since they couldn't out run the wolf like antelope, or generally out muscle them like the buffalo, and they were not effective herd animals like the elk.

White-tailed deer, often called "Bambi goats," and moose, referred to as "swamp donkeys" by acreage owners, are not deterred by the following when they raid your garden or acreage:



Trip lights

Water or sprinkler pump noises

Small or lazy dogs

Wolf or coyote urine

Human hair

Soap scents

Backyard evening parties

Fences they can see over

Seven-foot wire fences

Trip wires

Some electric fences

Bags, rags and things that float in the air


Heavy traffic, etc.

White-tail deer and mule deer will not jump wire fences 8 feet or more in height. An 8-foot fence can be built from an 8-foot buffalo fence or much less expensively from two 4-foot high sheep fences with a 4-inch gap in the middle--this gives an 8-foot, 4-inch fence. Moose or deer will not attempt an 8-foot fence unless they are chased. In addition, deer, both mule and white-tailed, will not jump over a solid 5 to 6-foot wooden fence--if they can't see over it, they'll not jump it. A moose can see over and may jump the wooden fence.

A pair of border collies or another territorial breed of dog, such as German shepherds, wolfhounds, greyhounds or terriers will keep out all deer if encouraged to do so. Moose on the other hand, particularly during the October / November breeding time or when with calves in May / June will readily attack all breeds of dogs and even people.

Electric fences can do a good job if they are double stranded, 2 feet apart in height, and regularly brushed with peanut butter so that the deer and moose can smell them, get zapped, and maybe learn.

Bow hunting can be an option in some suburban areas with the deer looking better in your freezer than in the middle of your strawberry patch. Where deer or moose are hunted in the country, they generally stay well away from human dwellings.

Another option is to surround your favourite shrubs with rings of 4-foot chicken wire or sheep fencing. Place the fencing 4 feet out from the shrub, and again 4 feet to 8 feet out from the first ring of fencing, to prevent them from reaching the plant by leaning over the fencing. For supplies, you'll need at least four, 8-foot poles and sufficient fencing material to do two circumferences for each shrub or small tree.

There are some kinds of shrubs that the cervids leave alone or browse very little. These are red and black currents, thorny gooseberries, thorny raspberries, chokecherries, pincherries, sea buckthorn, mayday, eastern cedar, lilacs, green ash, spruce, balsam and most pines.

Some repellants are effective, but must be replaced periodically. The repellant that is very effective against rodents (mice, rabbits, and porcupines) called Skoot (active ingredient 11% thiram) is of no use against cervids.

The only repellants that seem to be effective against cervids as published by the "Consumer Reports" magazine a few years back are: fatty acids, rancid egg powders and very hot peppers. Fatty acids are components of all soaps so it is not the brand of soap that is effective, but the amount and kind of fatty acid. Soap with animal-origin fatty acids are the most effective and soaps with palm or other vegetable oils are somewhat less effective. Rancid, rotten egg suspensions seem to work as well as very hot pepper extracts (be very careful holding hot pepper juice). Birdseed in the U.S. is sometimes soaked in hot pepper juice and dried before being left out for the birds. Squirrels and deer are repelled, but birds are not as they do not have the receptors for pepper hotness.

Soap (1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid / quart), hot pepper juices and rotten egg suspensions (they are sold commercially) need to be sprayed on in late October and repeated monthly or after heavy rains until the December freeze-up. This will discourage most cervids. Give it a try.

There are lots and lots of old tales and remedies out there, but only the above mentioned seem to work reliably. How do I know? I have 3.5 acres enclosed with 8-foot, 4-inch sheep wire fencing with two very alert Scots border collies inside, and many friends who drop by the area for some legal bow hunting during the season.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Evans, Ieuan
Publication:Prairie Garden
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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