This is Why I Like Deer Fences

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willow-damaged-by-deer.jpg

I always try to find a balance on land where I can work with nature and not against it. But sometimes... well sometimes the lack of natural predators mean that a land is just simply out of balance. Deer in my area and in many parts of the temperate world are the classic example.

A month or so I wrote a blog post about this but I thought I would share a recent example from one of my restoration sites.

Now I learned my lesson long ago and I use deer fences to protect my restoration projects. But sometimes deer fencing is not practical or could cause its own issues.

I was out at a restoration site this morning and there is a large wetland area that I created by raising the water level by removing the old water draining features that the previous owner had installed. Last winter my contractors planted about 10,000 willow live stakes.

My design called for so many willow live stakes because deer fencing was not a viable option. The soil is just too wet and the fence was not going to be stable and it would have caused other issues such as cutting off wildlife access to the wetland.

So the option was to put in a ton of willows and expect high losses. But to my surprise the deer mostly left the willows alone over the spring and summer and the willows just grew and grew and were really looking good. Most of the preserve is healthy and natural so there was other food for the deer so only the willows on the edge of the wetland area got browsed.

Then the fall came...

It was not browsing that caused the problem but instead the bucks decided all the live stakes were perfect for rubbing their new antlers on. The result is close to 2/3 of the willows have been rubbed breaking off most if not all of this year's growth!

Luckily we planted a ton of willows and with all the available water I expect many of the willows to regrow come spring. But this has still set them back significantly and will likely cause a number of them to die. I also expect this to happen each fall for several years at least...

The result will be less habitat for birds and other wildlife since it will be a while before the willows get big enough to provide nesting habitat and other habitat for wildlife.

The same thing happened on my wild homestead before I finished my deer fence. I even had a 10 foot tree broken in half by deer rubbing their antlers on it.

Without predators the deer stay in one place for much longer then they naturally would plus their numbers are much higher. I really don't have a solution to this problem other than to really over plant (very expensive) or to install deer fence (expensive but effective). Hunting in this area is not an option.

So my lesson for you all is that without predators a prey species like deer can cause damage to their environment. This results in what in ecology is called a downgraded environment. Essentially, an environment that is less diverse and less abundant then it would have if the predators (or other keystone species--in a few ecosystems browsers are actually a keystone species) were present.

One day I hope that large predators will be returned to much of their former ranges. If we really want to heal the world and create the abundance that a healed world would have we need to make space for large predators.

If you live in the United States I highly recommend checking out this video from PBS which does an amazing job covering this topic and how the concept of keystone species were discovered.

What do you think? Have you had issues with deer on your wild homestead? Please leave a comment--I would love to hear from you!

Check out my post -- Can You Support Wildlife While Keeping Deer Out? -- to learn more about this issue.

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Thanks for sharing:)

I get plenty of deer damage in my yard. Rubs on new trees I plant, my arbovita look like Dr Suess trees, with no branches until you get up past 6 foot and the Hostas? They are only stems! I've given up trying to have a garden. I grow everything in pots on my deck.

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It's hard with deer--this is why I had to go with a fence... Sorry to hear about your struggles with deer!

I can imagine that is a bit frustrating. I appreciate the fact you are seeking balance. Might I suggest maybe wrapping a bit of hardware cloth around a few of them? Maybe like every 5th or 6th tree you can wrap just to ensure you still get a good population of willow to help with the water issue?

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That is a good idea and something I may end up doing if the willows can't get established. But given the scale of my restoration work I try to avoid using cages or plant protectors. The cost can go up really fast :( Especially since I'm reliant on contractors to do most of the work... But I do appreciate the tip and it's something I will consider.

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I totally understand....and it can be cumbersome. Hopefully, you can get just a few up....even just 4 or 5, so that at least a few willows will get established. They are huge sponges, as you know, and will do a great job in your situation. Good luck!! I love how you are finding natural solutions to situations. :)

Great article @wildhomesteading. We have a very healthy deer population in the area we live in, but hunting is allowed. This area is known for its deer and turkey hunting. In addition to hunting, there are several large predators that keep the deer popllation in check. The Fisher and Coyotes prey on the young deer. With over 300 trees planted on our property, browsing deer are a real problem. It may not seem practical, but three times a year I use a very environmental friendly mixture of eggs and milk to keep the deer from browsing on low lying branches. The mixture calls for 2 dozen eggs to a gallon of milk. This concoction is mixed with a blender and put into a spray bottle. I use a commercial sprayer as there are so many trees to spray. The mixture dries in about 1/2 hour and you're good for at least four months. This will help stop the browsing, but I'm not sure it will keep the deer from using the trees for a deer rub.

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Thanks for sharing! Yeah, I have used sprays of different types before. Sometimes it works but I found it was not consistent enough. Plus, for restoration projects the scale of the plantings is just too big. I have ended up planting in large clusters and then putting up fencing around the clusters. Thanks for sharing your experience, that is a great tip for people to know about.

I’m curious how the deer predators where you are came to be depleted. I know the history in England and we now have professional cullers for deer there, because they completely wiped out wolves hundreds of years ago. Australia did it's usual of bringing deer to a place which had no predators for them in the first place.

Is it to populated for hunting where you are?

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I'm down the street from an elementary school in a semi-rural area. No one hunts here due to the population and even where hunting is allowed it does not seem to keep the deer numbers down much... we also have hunting seasons so most of the year you can't hunt.

Here the large predators were mostly hunted out. Wolves are gone but we do have coyotes but the 3 years I have lived here I have only seen 1 deer killed by them. There are still black bears and cougars but they are very rare and their populations are very low--no where near enough to keep the deer numbers in check.

Statistically the most deadly thing to deer in my area are cars...


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I have a 5 foot high fence around the entire back yard to keep the deer out. Deer are capable of jumping a 5 foot fence, but they never have here. I suppose there's enough other stuff for them to eat here in town, so they don't have the feeding pressure to jump the fence. If I leave the gate open overnight, the deer will wander into the back yard and sample the garden. They seem to really like tomato plants for some reason.

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I have deer fences up to about 7 feet just to be safe. But I'm also growing hedgerows to one day replace the deer fences. The hedgerows are planted so the outside plants are good for deer to eat but are plants that get denser with more browsing. The plan is that the deer will just move along the hedgerow browsing the outside plants and not try to get in. Plus, I'm growing the hegerows to be 15-25 feet tall and very dense and 7-10 feet thick :)

Have you ever considered bee hives as natural (and productive!) deer fencing? My friend here in Thailand, Antoinette van de Water, runs a project called Bringing the Elephant Home - conserves elephants by using bee hives to keep them out of farms and rural properties where they are hunted. It's so successful you'll see it on National Geograhic et al. :)

Just a thought.... :)


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That's very interesting and something I had not considered. I will have to look into that some more! Getting beehives is on my list of future projects... just been waiting for my native flowers and my future native plant meadows. Do you have a link to any videos/sites talking about it?

We have a lot of deer here, see between 2 - 6 in the back pasture daily. Husband's mentioned at least 2 bucks. But to my knowledge, there's been no deer damage to anyone's yard or wanted trees ever. I've always chalked it up to their preference for our lush pastures. My husband would find rubbing sign in the woods, back when they were woods, to our north.

With so many deer here, I'm not sure why they've, knock wood, not been a problem.

In the last 10 years our coyote population has been nearly wiped out by hunting. So far, the only result has been an explosion in rodents of all kinds, and the fox have returned. But fox won't affect deer as coyotes would.

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I hope the deer keep not causing you issues. When my wife and I first moved here I tried to work with the deer. The result was a lot of my plants eaten to the ground and others killed by rubbing. Overtime, I just went with the fence and the result has been that my plants just took off. But the areas the deer hit the hardest are still about a year behind the rest..

Very interesting about the coyotes--I made sure they could come into my land despite my deer fence in order to keep the rodent population from getting to big.

Thanks for sharing!

I really enjoy all that deer talk! You Americans have so much wildlife! Most people here go through life without ever seeing a deer! I've only seen a few in a nature preserve. They never go near to where people live, that is crazy :) It's very interesting the different problems we have in different parts of the world :) Reading your post, I'm not sure I will trade free leaves and mulch for deer as pests. Then again, so much deer around here would just get hunted in a few years...