Deer Get My Goat

By Jessica Cortell

Before bud break and while all was quiet, we tried to make the vineyard secure. We knew of the impending danger. We patrolled the perimeter and the interior; we placed new wire and rocks over any spaces under the fence. It seemed like an easy proposition: Get the critters out and keep them out before the vines kick into gear.

While my dogs have found ways to get outside the fence, challenging my patience, these other animals insist on inviting themselves in. Are the grapes really greener on the inside?

It is now June, and our efforts, started in March, seem to be in vain. I am not sure how many times I have fixed the fence. What is it with these deer? I am really starting to despise them.

My love-hate relationship with deer goes back to when I was a kid. I remember having a huge garden when I was 5 years old. Just about the time my garden was peaking, a deer would jump the fence and wipe out all the efforts of a young girl.

Beautiful animals, they are; but good in vineyards, they are not.

Delicate, tasty new shoots. A gourmet feast to be had. Deer can cause substantial damage and crop losses. They eat the growing tips off young shoots, causing them to stop growing or to send out multiple side branches (laterals). They can eat off cluster primordials (buds that will become flowers and fruit). And they can do all this substantial damage in just one night.

Once the canopy is 3 to 4 feet, deer damage is not as big an issue. Last year, there were also many stories about persistent deer and damage to vines. One even waded through a reservoir to gain access to a vineyard.

How do you keep them out?

As far as fences go, it should be 8-feet tall with no gaps along the base. It costs around $3.50/linear foot for fencing, so it is not cheap. This makes it all the more vexing when they find ways to get inside the fence. It is not easy to herd them out. Dogs are not good as they spook the deer, causing them to charge into the fence where they risk hurting themselves and damaging the fence.

Once I attempted to guide a deer out of the gate in a pair of shorts, which I seldom ever wear. I walked slowly behind it, down the east side of the fence. It ran right past the gate to the west, so I went to the west side and walked it back toward the gate. Back and forth, multiple times, with me tripping through tall grass, blackberries and poison oak. After a while, I couldn’t see the deer anymore. Did it go out or was it still inside?

With scratched legs and impending poison oak hell, I headed home in defeat. The moral to this story is to keep the gates closed at all times, keep fence lines clear of brush and use three to four people to herd them out.

You would think after identifying the problem areas along the fence, fixing them and ridding the property of deer and remembering to keep the gate closed would solve the problem. But somehow they keep getting in and I am getting to the end of my rope.

It is time to get crazy and check into all the alternative methods of dealing with deer. I like the idea of the electrified peanut butter fence.

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