March 2022 - 29

Deer management options for New England orchards
By Alan Eaton
University of New Hampshire
Deer can cause serious injury in New
England orchards. White tailed deer is
native to our region, and is abundant
in most orchard growing regions. They
browse orchard trees at any time of
year, but feeding is especially intense in
late winter and spring. In late winter,
deer have depleted most or all of their
fat reserves and are starving. The
bucks in particular have their highest
food consumption in spring. When the
new growth appears on fruit trees, deer
can replenish their reserves.
Feeding removes fruit buds, leaves
and shoots, so it can affect both
this season's crop and the form and
structure of the tree (and thus its
productivity in future years). They will
heavily browse what they can reach,
which is typically the lower six feet
of a tree. As we shifted from growing
seedling trees to semi dwarf and
dwarf trees, we shifted an increasing
percentage of the fruit-bearing area
to within reach of browsing deer.
Fruit tree buds and foliage are highly
palatable to white tailed deer.
Unlike rabbits and hares that have
both upper and lower incisors, deer
have just lower incisors. This means
that twigs that have been browsed by
deer appear somewhat ragged, while
those browsed by hares and rabbits
look cleanly sheared off. Another clue
to the identity of the browser is the
height at which damage occurs, and
the hoof prints in the soil or snow.
Deer tend to be night active during
the fall hunting season, but shift back
to some daytime activity in winter,
spring and (especially) summer.
Wire mesh fence. Photos: Alan Eaton/University of New Hampshire
Deep snow in winter causes deer to
congregate in " deer yards " - thick
patches of conifers with lower snow
depth. If a deer yard is close to your
orchard, large numbers of deer could
congregate and feed there during the
Most does give birth around May 25
to June 15 and often select tall grass in
which to hide their newborn fawns. If
they select your orchard as the birth
site, it becomes their center of activity
for a couple of weeks.
Deer populations in New England
are no longer controlled by wild
predators. The state Fish and Game
departments carefully regulate deer
populations by modifying hunting
regulations. To them, deer are an
important resource that brings in
funds (hunting license revenue). But
they also recognize the damage that
deer do to agricultural crops, and often
Deer-browsed twig.
Aluminum foil bait on an electric fence.
work with growers to reduce problems.
This can be by offering shooting
permits, sharing in the cost of fencing,
or other methods.
Management options
Fencing can be nearly completely
effective, if the fence is high enough
and well-constructed. The materials
and labor required can be expensive,
but sometimes there are cost-sharing
programs offered to assist. Fencing
restricts movement of equipment and
people, so it is important to carefully
consider where to place gates. If you
leave gates open, deer learn to walk
in, thereby defeating your investment.
Both wire and plastic mesh fencing
options are available. In general, an
8 foot or higher fence is required to
keep out deer, but some electric (either
vertical or slant models) can be fairly
effective at lower heights. A catalog
Plastic mesh vertical deer fence.
can provide much more information
on options. Some suppliers have
excellent publications contrasting the
options and their effectiveness.
Electric fences are most effective
if they are baited, then energized
immediately after being erected.
See DEER, page 30
FGN | MARCH 2022 | 29

March 2022

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