If you homestead near wildlife, you may have only two options: a good deer fence or no garden.
“What’s wrong with sharing your bounty?” I often hear newbie homesteaders say this. “The animals deserve to eat, too.”
I’m not saying they don’t deserve to eat. I’m saying that, if you allow them access to your garden when their other option is sagebrush and pine bark, they will choose the obvious. And “sharing” isn’t in their vocabulary. They will eat all of it.
Rules for Effective Deer Fencing
Keep your garden safe, and your family fed, with DIY fence installation. The University of Vermont has some great ideas, and I’ve seen all of these in action.
Some homeowners install privacy fencing that has no gaps since deer won’t pursue what they can’t see. They may smell luscious cabbage but don’t know if danger also awaits. But this privacy fencing, often made of solid wood or fiberglass slats, can be expensive. It can also topple in windy areas.
Though eight-foot deer fencing isn’t the only option, it’s one of the best. Whitetail deer can clear up to eight feet. If your fence is only four feet tall, extend poles, or install more poles, so you can add another roll of wire. Or purchase wildlife fencing that already reaches 96 inches.
Another way to install effective deer fencing, without taking out a second mortgage, is to work with how deer leap. They can jump high. Or they can jump wide. Not both. If you already have a five-foot fence, install another of the same height about four feet away.
Do you have only a few trees, or a small garden plot, to protect? Use the same deer netting or deer fencing but surround only what you want to be protected. A few t-posts and some good wire later, hungry does can no longer feast from your dwarf apple tree.
Deer Fencing That’s Kind to Deer
In Salmon, we had another problem with deer. Fencing, designed to keep in cattle, was deadly to bucks and does. Barbed wire is a cost-effective way to keep in calves and steers. But deer have poor depth perception so they often can’t see strands. They run through, get caught and tangled, and often meet a tragic end. When I worked for the Forest Service, I often saw the remains of spring fawns that had gotten caught in a rancher’s barbed wire.
Avoid deer fencing disasters two ways.
First, choose fencing with small holes and smooth seams. An eight-foot wooden fence is expensive, so try rolls of dedicated deer and orchard fence. It’s easier to see so they often don’t try to jump it. And if you keep it tight enough, attaching to upright posts, there are no loose ends that can entangle legs. Many companies, which sell wildlife and deer fencing intended exactly for that purpose, strengthen top and bottom with higher-gauge wire that is a solid, noticeable color.
I saw this second idea often in Idaho since many ranchers can’t afford to replace fencing around 200 acres. Tie plastic flagging, baling twine, or cloth strips to the wire so it’s visible. Deer saw streamers fluttering in the wind and didn’t try running straight through barbed wire. This method can also add more security to commercial wildlife fencing, so deer avoid the barrier altogether and don’t try to leap it.
Double Down on Deer Fencing for Success
Suzanne shared another effective tactic with me: When my nephews go work on her farm, she asks them to urinate on her hostas. She says it works great!
Though I don’t advise relying solely on deer repellents, they can bolster your other defenses.
Deer-repellent plants generally don’t work. Though nurseries may advertise varieties deer don’t prefer, I mentioned that their other options may be sagebrush and pine bark. Zinnias may not be their first choice, but they may be their best. And beware of anyone that tells you that certain plants keep deer away. They walk right through. I’ve been told that planting marigolds repels wildlife. (Marigolds? Really? French marigolds repel certain tomato-loving bugs. Deer and rabbits love marigolds.)
Repellent liquids and granules, often made of blood or urine, work until it rains. Remember to reapply often and water from beneath, such as with drip irrigation. Combine these with good fences for the best success.