When my family and I first moved to our homestead my goal was to work with all wildlife including deer. But I quickly discovered that there were just too many deer in my area and it would be very difficult to get my plants established.
Ultimately, I decided that by fencing my homestead I could actually support more wildlife even if I excluded deer.
But I did not reach that decision lightly—here is the journey I took over the first year of homesteading at my current property. Make sure to– check out the blog post for more information about why excluding deer can actually support more wildlife.
Deciding to keep deer out
As I started preparing my homestead for planting, I noticed there were signs of deer and I started seeing them on and off. But since the deer mostly came by at night I did not really see them.
I thought there were only a few deer and not much to worry about.
So, I got busy planting my hedgerows which were meant to provide privacy and ultimately direct deer around my core plantings. These hedgerows were mostly native plants and I figured a little browse would not be a big deal.
I was so wrong…
It turned out that my homestead was basically a deer highway that the deer used to get between 2 forests. Some of my new plantings were right in these high traffic areas.
The result were the plants just got eaten down to the ground… over and over again…
So my first response was to put up a fairly minimal fence. Just using some wires between u-posts all around the planting areas.
This helped but it was ugly and eventually the deer pushed their way in. I tried adding more wires but it just got more ugly and more frustrating.
Because of this I finally decided to not just fence the planting areas but to keep the deer out of my homestead entirely. There was already an existing fence, so I mostly just expanded it upwards by attaching u-posts, some wires and deer mesh.
At first I tried just the wires and again it worked for a while until eventually some deer just jumped through it. One even did a faceplant (I watched it happen) doing so but that did not really seem to slow it down. Ultimately, I had to add the deer mesh and once I did the deer stopped coming through.
This cycle has continued for a while now. I try a simple fence, it works for a while, the deer break through, I have to go to a more formal fence that finally seems to work.
The issue has mainly been the young deer. I have found these deer to be more adventurous and willing to challenge the fence. Plus, they are just smaller and can fit through any gaps—when a fawn does this the mom will often force her way in to get to her fawn. So formal fences has been the only lasting solution for me.
Even now I’m still switching from my old simple fences to more formal fences. This weekend I will be finishing the last section that the deer seem to be challenging. It is also the location of their original highway…
It has been a long journey but ultimately keeping deer out has been the best way for me to ensure that my homestead is filled with a diversity of plant life that will in turn support a diversity of wildlife.
The results of keeping deer out
This was the location of the deer highway—it was also an old parking lot. I’m turning it into a food forest and since I have kept deer out my plants have just taken off. But the deer don’t give up easily and this year I had 1 deer keep forcing its way in which is why I’m replacing the temp fence with a more formal fence that will be on the outside edge of the hugelkultur hedgerow.
Across my homestead my plants are thriving, and the amount of wildlife has exploded. But this would not have been possible with widespread deer browse. The fence has proven to be a necessary evil.
I did add one critical feature to some of my deer fences to let other wildlife like coyotes in since I don’t want my homestead to only host birds and other small critters.
What I did was install wildlife tunnels under the fence. Deer don’t seem to be able to use them, but coyotes and other animals just go right through these tunnels. The current tunnels are fairly simple using logs and sticks but I want to make some permanent ones using small culverts cut in half.
Without these tunnels I could have ended up excluding a lot of wildlife beyond just deer.
The blog post goes into this in more detail and asks the question… are deer today truly wild? Check it out and tell me what you think!
A 6 foot fence or higher is needed to exclude deer. My garden/yard/food forest will only need dogs excluded. The dogs will keep the deer away. I'm fencing in for meat goats and have a male Great Pyrenees to protect the goats from coyotes. The dog he came with is an Old English Sheep dog and will probably be pretty useless so I'll replace him eventually with a female Pyrenees. The animals will live close to our food but be excluded from it themselves. The deer may cross the property occasionally but shouldn't get into our stuff. Basically it will be a fenced in area for us, within a larger, perimeter fence for the goats and the dogs that will protect them.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
The fences on my farm for my sheep actually help the deer.
My fences are 4 feet high, field fence. When they get chased by coyotes, the deer head for the fences and bound over them, while the coyotes plow into them. By the time the coyote finds a way around, the deer is long gone.
I have never had a coyote kill a sheep though. The fences protected the sheep well enough for 9 years, then I got a LGD which is just further insurance.
"When it is all said and done, and the coffin goes in the ground, it was the farmer who was the richest man of all."
A statement by a wise, ole dairy farmer.
We put in a deer fence a year after moving into our current place and we've noticed a definite increase in bird and insect life. Where we live, the deer used to be kept in check by the cougar and wolf populations, but when human farmers moved in, the hunters wiped out the big predators and started hunting the deer for food. Nowadays nobody hunts the deer so they're massively overpopulated. Ecologists have commented that there are many species of native plants that are now in danger of extinction due to excessive overgrazing by the deer, and that this has in turn pushed out native birds and other animals that rely on those species of plants.
I use two short fences about four feet apart. So far, 100% deer exclusion. The inner fence is 5' concrete reinforcing wire, the outer, 4' fencing left over from when we had sheep. I'm going to try double sheep fencing in some areas to see if it works as well as the different heights.
Hey all! So sorry for the delay getting back to you all. I’m still figuring out how to balance everything with a (now almost 4 month old) baby and a toddler. But I really appreciate all the replies and I wanted to take the time to respond to you all even if I’m late, late, late.
John – Dogs can be a good option and it sounds like you have a setup that should work for you. I’m in a semi-rural (or semi-urban?) area and it would take a good fence to keep a dog in anyways. At this point I just went with the fence. But it is working now—just made some improvements! Good luck with your setup and I hope the dogs work out for you!
Travis – Very interesting! Thanks for sharing that story! I did not know deer would use fences for protection like that. The coyotes here don’t seem to go after the deer, at least not the adults.
Meg – Yeah, I have noticed similar things and for my restoration work (day job) I have started fencing off areas so my plants can get established. The deer are just not in balance anymore—not their fault but the results just are not good…
James – My parents have struggled with rabbits. They fenced out the deer fairly easily but the rabbits are an ongoing issue for them. The rabbits are all domesticated ones that people turned loose. There are actually no native rabbits in my area even though there are now some wild types running around.
Tyler – Good to hear that is working for you! I tried something similar at my place and it worked for a while and seemed to exclude the deer fine. But eventually I always had one very pesky deer show up and just bust through… I do have some areas where a double fence plus a good hedgerow are working fine. Hope yours keeps working out!
Abe – I really wanted to work with the deer when I moved here… but it was not to be…
Again thanks all for the comments and sorry for taking so long to get back to you all. I really appreciate all the comments! I’m trying to get caught up and hopefully I will be back to being on here talking with you all on a regular basis.