The Woodlands of Missouri

The Woodlands of Missouri
...a stroll through the forest, a beautiful diverse biome.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Controlling Deer and Other Animals

One of the most asked questions has to do with deer. Deer are beautiful animals, and really enjoyable to see... as long as they are not your yard, eating your trees and plants... We too are plagued by these large brown vermin, as well as possums, raccoons, armadillos, skunks, raccoons, rabbits, snakes of various kinds, squirrels, rats, mice, gophers, and even bears.

We rather not apply the 30-30 solution, but rather we try as best we can to live with all of these remarkable creatures. The one exception are the rattlesnakes... we have no tolerance for them! But the question is always, how to keep the deer (in particular) from smashing down the wire fences, sleeping in the tree-beds, and providing them with too many free meals...

There are many people that offer many ideas, and some work, some don't, but deer are not fooled for long. Outside of shooting them or letting them run wild, there can be some sort of control. Deer are most actively in your yard "seasonally", typically when their natural food and water sources are limited. And if deer are having a problem finding food, then chances are good that other animals will view your plants will hungry eyes.

There are deer-resistant trees and shrubs, typically the acidic tasting conifers among other plants, but when they are hungry, they will eat anything, and nibble everything else. Bloodmeal works sometimes, various deer repellents work at other times, and having a dog run around the yard eager to chase anything that moves gets to be annoying after a while.

The best solution is to fence the yard or at least those key and critical plants. The willows and poplars can be very tasty, so having a little fence around them until the trees are big enough to resistant major damage, might be the best plan. Deer are harder than most animals to fence out because the jump so well. A deer can clear an eight foot fence, and they can sometimes jump taller barriers than that. But a fence is the best and primary way to keep them out.

You can cover individual trees or shrubs with netting. The black plastic netting is available at many gardens centers, and its cheap. This might be best when the deer are particularly interested in a few trees, prized specimens, or new plantings.

Many people have luck with repellent materials. A wide variety of these are available in garden centers. Most of them are not appropriate for any type of food-producing tree or plant, so don't... Repellents work one of two ways: by taste or by smell. Taste repellents are usually non-volatile, so last longer. Don't use taste repellents on anything you plan to eat, because you won't like it either. Smell repellents are volatile, so must be reapplied every couple of weeks unless heavy rains prompt you
to apply them again. Change repellents every couple of weeks for the best effect.

Which ones work the best is always difficult to say, one may work in one area, but not somewhere else. The idea is that if the deer don't like the way it smells, they re less inclined to devour it. And if it tastes bad, then they tend not to nibble it twice.

Blood meal, which is sold as a soil amendment or fertilizer works, but it stinks. Sprinkle it around the soil and reapply after a rain or every few days. Perfumed soap, like Irish Spring is effective, as are moth-balls. Place some of it near the plants you want protected. There are sprays made with garlic, rotten meat or eggs, fish emulsion fertilizer, Tabasco sauce and red pepper, etc., all have been successfully used.

Overall, the first defence is the fence around the property. Fencing is typically the most certain way to keep animals out, but they are intrusive, can be expensive, and they do need maintenance or repair at times.

Although electric fencing sounds cruel, they are humane and effective for keeping the animals out. They give a highly unpleasant (but harmless) shock when touched. They are best used as part of an existing fence, and usually to keep animals from climbing over or burrowing under.

With electric fences, its important to control weeds growing under the electric wire. Anything that touches it, will reduce the charge. Electric fences should be left on most of the time, turning them off only when you are working around them.

One of the most innovative approaches to wire electric wire fencing is to train the wild animals using the carrot and a stick thinking. String a single strand of electric fence 2 to 3 feet above the ground. Every 3 feet, tape on a piece of aluminum foil about about 3 inches by 3 inches square. Put some peanut butter on each piece of foil. The peanut butter attracts the deer, who then gets a (harmless) shock and they learn to respect the strand of wire.

Keep in mind that deer are intelligent and adaptable. It is more difficult to keep them out of your yard after they have become used to browsing there. The effectiveness of the fence also depends on how hungry they are. Very hungry deer will brave all odds and overcome unusual obstacles to get a free meal. You actually have better luck controlling well-fed deer who are just exploring. Either way, they learn your tricks, so change the
repellents and obstacles periodically.

The problem with deer is that they are excellent jumpers. A fence should be at least 8 feet high to keep deer out. And that gets into some real challenges trying to construct it. However, deer are not good at jumping both high and wide. A fence only 4 feet high can keep them out if it is also 4 feet wide. Make a slanted fence by planting 7-foot fence posts at a 45-degree angle, so the top is 4 feet from the ground. The fence should slant away from the plants you are
protecting. String woven wire fencing along the fence posts. Make it doubly effective by stringing an electric wire at the top.

The simplest and least expensive deer fence is made of plastic netting, sold at many garden centers. Usually it comes 8 feet high, it can be strung between trees and bushes as well as fence posts. Use this type of fencing for a quick, temporary barrier. Either add this on top of an existing fence, or go with the double-wide fence idea. Since the material is relatively cheap, and very lightweight, you can easily try it.

Use fencing with repellents, and that should keep the deer out... at least most of the time.

Controlling Other Animals

Now many small animals may try to climb a fence, but most are not good jumpers. You can deter possums, skunks, raccoons, and many other climbing animals with a floppy-top fence.

Make the fence of chicken wire or woven wire fencing 4 feet wide. Fence posts should be 2 to 3 feet high. Fasten the wire so the top 18 inches is loose and pull it slightly toward the outside. This makes the "floppy top" that keeps animals from climbing over. As they climb, the top bends back under their weight, keeping them from getting over.

A strand of electric wire along the top of a fence will also keep animals from climbing over.

An Apron fences is good for digging animals like rabbits and dogs. They can be kept out with an apron, which is an extension of the fence about 2 feet wide that extends along the ground. Either bury the apron or peg it down tightly to the ground. Burrowing animals will try to dig under the fence at the vertical portion and be deterred by the apron.

Small-animal fences can be built with both floppy tops and aprons to deter both climbers and diggers.

And for digging animals, like pocket gophers, armadillos, and mice, that burrow through the soil, bury a portion of the fence. This can work to protect individual trees, small groupings, or lines (like for privacy screens). Use 1-inch mesh or smaller depending on the critter involved. Bury a foot to two feet of fencing around the outside of your planting area. You can protect raised beds by lining the bottoms with chicken wire or hardware cloth before filling them with soil. This simple measure is
very effective at avoiding problems with burrowing rodents.

Underground perimeter fences may be more trouble than they're worth, and may not keep gophers out completely, but it is still overall the best way to keep most of the animals out. Gophers can dig several feet deep and make their burrows, and when the fencing is not working, then periodic flooding will get them out (at least for a while).

On HGtv, there was a show about repelling gophers and moles, and they had some interesting ideas. As with deer, there are many methods used to control these pests, including, traps, poisons, flooding the tunnels, fumigants (including using car exhaust piped into the tunnels), and hunting. Each method has some successes, varying costs, as well as other concerns. But on the show, they went with the idea of repelling these pests.

Moles make shallow, typically surface tunnels, as they forage for grubs, bugs, and worms. For the most part, they help aerate the soil and are relatively good. Gophers on the otherhand are very bad, since their tunnels are deep and theyeat roots of everything we plant. And for both, using granular Castor Oil seems to be very effective. Where you would find it pre-made is anyones guess, but it is simply a mixture of castor oil, soap (either laundry or dish soap), and corn meal (granulated corn
husks or similar starch carrier can be used too). Spread the mixture about 1 pound per 1,000 suare feet of ground, water it in, and that is it! You can use lines, put some in key spots, or any type of application you want, its versatile. The granular castor oil method is safe, natural, cheap, and very effective!

And if nothing works, then you might contact your local or state wildlife department to see if they have a better solution.

One note about mosquitos... They are everywhere, in virtually every climate and habitat. They need water to live, so the drier areas of the country are far less buggy than those that live in the swampy of wetter areas. Here too, there are many types of control methods, each with associated costs and effectiveness.

One of the more unique and very wildlife-friendly ideas to try is Bat-boxes. There are many species of bats native across the country, and mostly they feed on insects. It was noted on the HGtv show that bats can eat about 6,000 mosquitos a night! If you will put up bird-house like structures in several trees, that will help provide habitat for bats. Now the holes (or slits) for the bats should be smaller than you would make for most song birds, otherwise the houses will be occupied by birds (not undesirable either). But the idea of bats (and many species of birds) are better at getting rid of mosquitos and other bugs than we we are. Again, its safer, cheaper, and supports wildlife. You can contact the Audobon society, your state wildlife department, and other sources for more information and how to build (or where to buy) bat and bird boxes.

Good luck...!