Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Bambi --- Long Jump Medalist

There he was. Despite the high fence at the bottom of the field, the extra barbed wire, and my conviction that our field was deer proof, Bambi had somehow breached the defenses. He strutted back and forth where we'd planted willows as if he owned the place.

I had already seen the results of previous deer incursions, teeth marks on the bark of the apple trees, the plum tree’s branches cropped, many of my new plantings gnawed off. How the devil had the bugger gotten in?

Plum tree --- after deer pruning

I walked down the path toward him. He immediately spotted me and searched for an escape route, first to the right along the rear fence, and then left, at a slow canter and then breaking into a gallop. The right hand fence was a sturdy stock fence five feet high, set at the far side of a deep ditch. I’d added a string of barbed wire above it. Upon reaching the ditch he launched into the air, sailed twelve feet across the ditch, high above the fence, barbed wire and all, landed on the far side without having even clipped the fence with his feet.

 The ditch, 12 feet wide, and the five foot fence!

I stared with mingled wonder and hopelessness. How on Earth was I too keep him out of our property short of building a fence as tall as heaven? Sure I could install tall green tubes, deer protectors around my trees, but what about the garden? Our raspberries, veggies and all? Shouldn't I put aside my Buddhist sensibilities and just have him shot? Amber suggested we call Steve Wright of Mortlach Game, the man who sells locally caught venison. Once when she ordered venison from him, he'd told her that if any deer bothered us,  he would change our problem into an asset.

Yesterday around 9 pm, still early in the evening up here, Steve stopped by to visit. While we stood in the garden he listened to my woes. He had seen our deer lately and was tracking them. “The problem,” he said, “Are too many mouths and too little food.” It’s been that way since Scotland got rid of the wolf, leaving no natural deer predator but us. Their population is at an all-time high. By most estimates 50% must be culled to protect the countryside. Talk about a natural ecology out of whack.

 Steve shared with me some of his deer lore.

Nibbled willow sapling

We had planted a forest, and the deer immediately sniffed it out. Even the small saplings. The deer sense of smell picks out the scent, especially on warm evenings when the breeze wafts it downhill. Deer don’t nibble  trees for food, but for  trace elements: salt, magnesium, copper, manganese, zinc, iron, cobalt --- you name it. During the past fifty years, as a result of acid rain, the minerals have been leached out of the topsoil, leaving grasses, that deer would eat, deficient in those minerals. In search of a food supplement, the deer head for the trees because tree roots reach down below the topsoil and bring up the trace minerals. Another stroke against us is our organic farming methods. Deer avoid lands where farmers spray their crops with chemicals. They love Cottarton.

Salt Lick (KNZ brand) formulated for deer. It should not be used for sheep because of its high copper content. 

I suggested a salt lick that supplies those essential minerals and increases deer appetite for grass and forage other than trees. Steve agreed that the salt lick might divert the deer to pastures other than Cottarton.  But he cautioned me that the deer have very long memories of where they’ve found the good stuff. Their foraging memories are passed down through generations. Deer are especially fond of fruit trees and raspberries. Watch out for deer when your rasps are ripe. He left me a salt lick, which I installed the following day.

Gean a.k.a. Bird Cherry, a fast
growing native tree.

Of course a dog would fluster the deer and keep them away. However given our itchy feet for travel, I can’t see owning a dog in the near future, much as I’d love to have one around.

What about the permanent solution?  Steve pointed to a large tree and said that he could build a deer observation platform there, and plug the deer as soon as he appeared. I told him that he was most welcome to try. Johanna and Jon are getting married at Cottarton on August 31, and we’re serving a stew, with venison supplied by Steve. The young couple would like food produced by our garden. Shouldn't we also include venison from the land?