January 24, 2003 | By: Janet Eaton, Ag. Communications Intern

Kentucky's white-tailed deer population is increasing each year and as a result, it is more important than ever for farmers to know ways to prevent deer from making a meal of their crops.

More than 375 farmers met with Tom Barnes, University of Kentucky Extension wildlife specialist, to learn effective interventions to control damage to horticultural crops by deer during the January Kentucky State Horticultural Society/Kentucky Vegetable Growers Association conference in Lexington.

"A variety of factors have contributed to the growth of the population," Barnes said. "These include a decreased number of hunters, a limit to the number of deer that hunters actually want to harvest, development and habitat fragmentation which creates better deer habitat, and the increasing amount of land on which people do not allow hunting."

The growth rate of deer in Kentucky has been about 10 percent a year (doubling the population in 10 years). This growth rate began in the mid 1980s.

According to Barnes, future harvests will have to take 50 percent of the female population to reduce numbers to a manageable level.

Another contributing factor to increased damage to horticultural crops is the development of high-sugar-content vegetable varieties that are very appealing to deer. These crops bring good prices and their loss is particularly troublesome to farmers.

Barnes advised conference participants that one long-term solution is fencing fields with eight-foot chain link topped with a single strand of barbwire.   A recommended temporary solution is high-tensile electric wire placed 32 inches above the ground.

Barnes also suggested reducing the problem by harvesting the troublesome deer. Farmers may apply to their district wildlife office for permits to take deer out of season.

Some participants at the meeting said they had obtained the permits but were unable to successfully use them. Deer come into the fields at night and hunting at night is strictly prohibited.

Chemical solutions have not provided the needed protection, according to Barnes. Besides being expensive, any effectiveness the chemicals have is temporary because deer grow accustomed to them.

"The only true solution is to fence the deer out of particularly valuable commodity crops," Barnes said. "The other initiative should be to find ways to increase the deer harvest."



Tom Barnes  859-257-8633