Electric fences could be an easier way to keep deer out of gardens

Deer. Sure they’re magnificent in the wild with their big dewy eyes, licorice noses and flashing white tails effortlessly clearing fences as if bouncing off hidden trampolines.

But when they chow down on your garden, benevolence turns to malevolence.

Where deer are plentiful protecting produce can be a big job for rural and urban gardeners alike. Putting up and tearing down seven foot or higher page wire fences is a lot of work.

That’s why the two-strand ribbon electric fence at the University of Manitoba’s Ian N. Morrison Research Farm caught my eye during the recent Crop Diagnostic School. With one ribbon about four to five feet off the ground and another about a foot up it appeared deer could walk in between or jump over.

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But Yvonne Lawley, an assistant professor of agronomy and cropping systems, says the fence is working — so far. This is just the second year she and her crew have used it.

“Last year we had a good year with minimal deer damage once the fence was up,” Lawley said in an email. “We are not expecting this fencing strategy to work forever as deer learn and adapt. I expect it also depends on how desperate the deer are for the food inside.”

But this fence story has a twist that may delay a deer’s development of resistance. The top ribbon is baited with peanut butter, Eric Wallace, a technician working with Lawley said in an email. When deer nibble the peanut butter they get the shock of their lives.

“Hopefully, this encounter provides enough of a deterrent for them to look elsewhere for food,” Wallace wrote.

“The fence is designed to provide a psychological barrier to the deer, not a physical one.”

Electric fences have been used to keep animals in for years, so if designed correctly, they should be able to keep animals out.

Busby, Alta. rancher Steven Kenyon uses the same principle to discourage predators from dining on newborn calves. But instead of peanut butter Kenyon wraps bacon on his electric fence. He recently wrote about it in Canadian Cattlemen.

Placing bacon every 100 yards or so on the electric wire, Kenyon calls it his guardian pig. He runs seven kilovolts through the wire.

“This trains them (predators) to stay away,” he wrote. “If we just remove the predator, this opens up a vacancy allowing new predators to arrive, thus only addressing a symptom that will return. The guardian pig addresses a problem by training existing predators, which keeps other predators out of the area. Problem solved.”

The electric fence is part of an integrated strategy, Lawley wrote.

“We also try to solid seed our crops so that there are no alleys within the experiment,” she wrote. “We also seed a large amount of buffer around the experiment. That may be different than a garden setting.

“There are other animals that try to eat our crops — especially the soybeans — like rabbits and then birds for the corn. The electric fence doesn’t do much for birds and rabbits.”

Lawley’s crew got the idea for the electric fence from researchers in New Jersey.

The Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management also has information on using electric fences to keep wild animals out of gardens.

The same equipment used to keep cattle and sheep confined to their pastures can be used to keep deer out.

About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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