By Alannah Sperr, University of MN Extension intern - Wright County
The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is a popular species of wildlife in Minnesota. Hunters and wildlife watchers enjoy seeing these deer make a home on their property, but deer can cause significant problems for farmers and gardeners. Deer will often feed on agricultural crops, landscaping plants, and gardens which can cause irreversible damage to the plants. White-tailed deer are known to cause the most damage when their populations are high and when they are facing pressure in their natural environments. Living with wildlife like white-tailed deer requires patience and taking action early to prevent damage.
White-tailed deer damage is the result of deer browsing on or trampling plants. This type of damage can occur year-round, but is most common on new growth in the spring. Branches, leaves and twigs browsed by deer have a rough, torn or shredded appearance, but there won’t be any teeth marks because deer do not have upper incisors. In areas where crops like corn, soybeans, alfalfa or grain are grown, those crops can make up to 78 percent of the deer’s diet. Male deer also will damage or shred the bark of small trees by rubbing their antlers to remove the velvet during the fall breeding season or rut. Also, during the fall, deer eat energy rich foods like acorns to build up their fat reserves for winter.
Deer are very persistent once they are used to feeding in an area. It is easier to prevent them from developing the habit in the first place than trying to break the habit later in the season. Deer are creatures of habit. They prefer the safety of known foraging grounds to unfamiliar areas. They will often create and use specific paths for areas they visit often. To prevent these habits from developing, detect damage early and take immediate action to prevent any further damage to plants or crops. Some steps you can take to deter deer activity include planting deer-resistant plants, fencing, using repellents, and regulated hunting. Some common deer resistant plants include daffodils, poppies, blue salvia, lilacs and red osier dogwood.
Deer have benefited from changes humans have made to the environment, especially the conversion of forests to agricultural fields. They are one of the few species that have a bigger population today than they did before European settlement. Humans have removed or reduced many natural predators of white-tailed deer, including gray wolves, black bears and bobcats.
It is important to have realistic goals for reducing damage caused by deer. You should not expect to eliminate deer damage completely. A 50 percent reduction in deer browsing is very successful; a 30 percent reduction is a more likely result.
For more information on controlling deer damage you can visit www.extension.umn.edu or reach out to your local Extension Educator. Residents in Wright County can call (763) 682-7381.