Oh dear….battles with the deer!

Our battles with the deer have been on going since our arrival at Seven Oaks but we are not alone. The white tailed deer population in North America has been explosive in the last century. The University of Missouri Extension Services says that in 1925, the estimated deer population in Missouri was 400 strong and in 2012, it was estimated at 1.4 million. If only we had seen that one coming and invested in that stock earlier! Based on the vehicular accidents that involve deer, they rank as the most dangerous animal in Missouri. Statistics from 2011 show that there is one vehicular accident involving a deer every 2.5 hours and one death attributed to one of these accidents every 23.1 hours!

The deer population in St. Louis county is growing at a stiff rate since they have been able to adopt new eating and ranging habits and therefore have naturalized quite quickly in the suburbs where there are little or no hunting practices. Besides their destructive foraging habits, deer are responsible for various diseases and scourges. We consider ourselves lucky to live in the small village of Huntleigh, Missouri where there are very few restrictions at all and none regarding the hunting of deer. We are allowed to bow hunt on our property in season, according to the MO department of conservation, and as soon as our orchard is mature, we should qualify for year round bow hunting. Our friendly bow hunter (a carpenter friend of mine) has taken out 8 deer over the last two seasons which helps, but is not enough if the statistic are correct that there are 80 deer per sq.mi. in the area.

Although we join the ranks of our fellow complaining gardeners since the deer nibble down our roses, hostas, hydrangeas and the like, it really got our goat when they ate our crops. Last year they ate the corn, soybeans, green beans, strawberries, etc. and nibbled down other random items at will. But the thing that pushed us over the edge was when they rubbed our newly planted trees to death. One day last year we lost 9 trees in one night because the bucks were rubbing the velvet off their antlers and also marking their territory for the upcoming mating season. Here are pics of some of the damaged trees. Ugh! The small fruit trees did not survive the scraping. The European Hornbeams may yet survive but will be misshapen. This was intolerable and we were moved to action.

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We inherited a 4 foot, chain link perimeter fence here but we know that deer will hop a 6-7 foot fence effortlessly.  So we were told that an eight foot perimeter fence is the only way to get past this problem. Unfortunately, enclosing the farm in 8 foot fencing is a giant money hog. So we decided to get creative and put some sweat equity into a project we could endorse and hope that it would solve our problem.

We found 7 foot tall pickets that curve outward at the top foot which theoretically adds to their effective height. We decided to lag these onto the existing fence posts (one foot off the ground) with industrial ties/clamps and run high tension wire thru holes that we drilled every 18″ from the top down to the existing fence. In order to drill them all in the same place, we made a jig on the work bench in the garage and Dave drilled 145 of them (3 holes each) all last fall and winter.

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Here is a stack of drilled pickets on the lower shelf of the work bench, waiting to be installed.

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We installed the pickets all fall and winter when little else was going on. Sometimes it was pretty darn cold when we were installing. After putting the pickets in place, we then pulled high tension wire thru the holes and then created a “stop” with a metal Ferrule. We pulled the wire opposing directions on a series of pickets to create tension. Here is what the wire stops looked like.

IMG_3797Here is the resulting line of pickets with wires. It kind of disappears into the greenery.

IMG_3342Although we are not yet entirely enclosed (the driveway needs a proper gate still and the east section has not been installed) we have certainly disturbed the travel pattern of the deer. They used to cross North/South and visa versa following the the swale which made sense. Now that the fence is up, we have caught them red handed as they approached the fence line and try to figure out what to do. I took these photographs in the late evening one day just before dark. You can see their eyes and their outlines as they traveled the fence line looking for a way into the yard.

IMG_0403So, this effort has been pretty successful but I do not like to jinx myself by saying we have solved the problem. Case in point. Two nights ago, I awoke in the early hours of the morning and decided to get a glass of cold water from the kitchen. I spied something thru the glass of the front door, and upon closer inspection, saw it was a deer, munching on the new roses that we planted in the front circle. At times like this I feel feral, as if I have a primitive hunting instinct that turns on and makes my hair stand on end. I reacted by charging thru the front door and yelling wildly. The deer ran off down the south side of the house, eastward, towards the back. Oh my, what had I done?  Chased the intruder towards the area I didn’t want him in? Egad, I didn’t want him to panic and charge the fence system! I went inside and grabbed our trusty Cyclops, a wonderful Christmas gift from our son, Peter, and slipped on my boots and ran out a rear door to check out the scene. The Cyclops is a large flashlight with a fabulous lamp and illumination range: it is shaped like a gun and is empowering to hold. We can illuminate a large area with it and keep it by the back door for just this type of use. Here is what it looks like.

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So, despite being in my summer nightie I  dashed outside and “hunted” down the deer that had slipped down the alley towards the back. Of course he had not crossed into the yard thanks to the deer fence, but was definitely trying to figure out his options. With a steady beam of light on him, he skittered away and I was somewhat satisfied with my efforts and trudged back to the house until I realized that I had ‘chased’ him into the rear section of the property where the east deer fence had not yet been erected. Darn!  I turned around and walked back toward the east fence line and there I spotted him, outside of the fence but looking like he was still confused and might like a little snack. He was peering toward me the whole time I had my Cyclops light illuminating him. As I got closer and began to yell, he took off again and ran westward up the south side of the alleyway again and off into the darkness. I couldn’t really chase him anymore at this point and so went back inside and crept into bed. Dave was curious what had taken me so long getting my water and why I was out of breath with that effort!

So the perimeter is not yet secured but we are definitely causing a stir in the deer world as they are wondering why their local 7 Eleven is no longer open for shopping.

Update on my precious Barn Swallow family. Here are the four chicks tonight in their nest! They have grown so fast that I don’t think there is room for the parents in the nest any more! Aren’t they amazing!!!

Oh, by the way….it was raining again today! I will have water meter updates soon!

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