October 31, 2007 | By: Katie Pratt
LEXINGTON, KY.

Deer overpopulation is a growing problem across the state, causing damage to crops and landscapes. 

Tom Barnes, University of Kentucky extension wildlife specialist, said the state’s deer population has doubled during the past 20 years. Kentucky is now home to approximately 1 million deer. 

“Deer problems are something we’re going to be facing for a long time,” Barnes said. 

Deer damaging crops is not a new problem. Barnes said deer damage crops every year, but most of the damage occurs long before the harvest when crops, such as corn and soybeans, are in their tender stages.

“One of the reasons landowners get upset is because deer are in their crops at a time when you’re not allowed to hunt them,” he said. 

Deer crop damage could be tough for some farmers to deal with this year because it’s in addition to drought damage. Facing a potentially smaller crop than in past years, some farmers are worried about losses or profit reductions. 

“Most landowners enjoy seeing deer and wildlife on their property, but it’s when it gets to point where the economic damage is affecting farmers’ livelihoods that most begin to become concerned with deer densities,” he said. 

Bracken County is struggling with this problem. Farmers there have experienced tremendous crop damage this year. David Appelman, UK extension agent for agriculture and natural resources in Bracken County, said farmers report more crop damage every year as deer populations continue to rise. 

Bracken County farmers face a lack of forage for livestock this winter because of the drought, he said. This makes it necessary for farmers to ration feed. If deer eat any of the forage, it becomes more noticeable. 

“Our farmers are outstanding stewards of the land and don’t mind sharing some of their hay fields with two or three deer, but when a herd of 20 or 30 deer are grazing alongside their cows, it’s a real financial burden,” Appelman said.

A deer’s diet includes more than 650 different types of food, and their favorite crops include corn, soybeans, fruits and alfalfa, Barnes said. The one crop deer don’t like is tobacco.

Appelman said many Bracken County farmers are diversifying their crops by growing fruits and vegetables, but these are some of the areas hit the hardest by deer damage.

“It is almost impossible to grow any food or ornamental crop without a fence due to the deer,” Appelman said. “Blueberries, apples, peppers and melons have received heavy damage from the deer.”

As a means of population control, the county’s Cooperative Extension Service and the Bracken County Agricultural Advancement Council are partnering to hold a contest promoting doe harvests Nov. 10 at the Bracken County Extension Office Youth Livestock Facility. By reducing the numbers of reproducing females, doe harvests make a greater impact toward reducing the overall deer population.

“The goal of the contest is to get hunters to realize there isn’t a stigma associated with harvesting a doe and encourage hunters to harvest doe,” said Christopher Simeral, contest organizer and the county’s 4-H youth development extension agent.

Campbell County has also experienced problems with deer damaging residents’ landscapes and gardens this year, said D.J. Scully, Campbell County natural resources and environmental management extension agent. Deer have damaged a lot of traditional home landscaping in the county. Damage caused by deer this summer was worse than in previous years, most likely a result of the drought. 

“With people watering their lawns this summer, landscapes were nice and green,” he said. “To deer searching for food, well-maintained landscapes looked like a buffet.”

Scully said the worst may be yet to come, as male deer do damage to landscape during the fall rutting season by rubbing their antlers against trees and shrubbery. With a potentially low food supply, residents could see deer foraging in their landscapes throughout the winter.

Contact: 

Christopher Simeral, 606-735-2141, Thomas Barnes, 859-257-8633, D.J. Scully, 859-572-2600, David Appelman, 606-735-2141