Our Situation - The Cecarelli Farm owns a 45-acre parcel of land that had become unsuitable for anything but hay crops, due to high deer populations. My late Uncle Tommy stopped trying to grow vegetable crops on the site back in 1988 because of crop damage and because there were so many deer antlers in the fields he was having trouble keeping tires on the tractors (now that is high deer pressure!).
Over the years, many different deer management solutions were attempted. Human hair, soap bars and other commercial repellents were used around the perimeter of the field to no avail. Crop damage hunting permits proved equally ineffective due to the extreme deer population pressure on adjacent property. The land abuts a 5,000-acre piece, that surrounds Lake Gaillard, the reservoir for the city of New Haven, where hunting is prohibited. Hunting and repellents can sometimes serve to reduce deer damage when pressure is light to moderate but are not effective in high pressure situations such as ours. As the availability of local rental property became scarce due to urban sprawl, it became clear that we needed to solve the deer problem on our own land for our vegetable farm to remain viable.
Our Solution - A Perimeter Exclusion Fence. Although we had dismissed the idea of fencing the property many times as being too expensive, I decided to look into the idea again in more detail with the help of my computer and the World-Wide-Web. There are basically two types of fences: electric and non-electric.
Electric fences range from short-life, single or multiple strand systems to high tensile slant fences that last up to 20 years. Electric fences do not have to be high, expensive barriers because the deer are suppose to avoid the structure after being shocked. However, deer are well insulated by their fur and can often walk right through without being shocked. To change the behavior of the deer, it is often suggested to bait the fence with peanut butter and to maintain high voltage by keeping the fence free of grass and other debris that may reduce the charge. Electric fences generally do not provide complete or perfect deer exclusion, especially in high pressure situations when other food sources are limited. I decided that any type of electric fence was going to require too much maintenance time and may not provide the degree of control I wanted.
Non-electric fences usually need to be at least eight feet tall to discourage the deer from jumping them, and strong, to keep the deer from working a hole in them over time. The border around the fence should be kept clear of trees or brush so that deer do not accidentally run into them and trees do not fall on them. If holes occur, they need to be repaired quickly so that the deer don't get use to feeding inside the fence. Deer can easily jump even a 10 or 12-foot barrier, but usually won't unless they are motivated by hunger or fear.
My research showed that labor for installing and maintaining the fence could cost me as much, or more, than the materials used to construct the fence. Due to the size of the field (45 acres) and the amount of work the project would require, I decided that we wanted a fence with the longest life expectancy possible and one that was relatively maintenance free. I chose a non-electrical, 8-foot tall, woven wire, fixed knot fence, with a longevity rating of 25-30 years. This was a relatively expensive choice, but it met my goals of long life and low maintenance. Since we were choosing quality materials for the fence, I also decided that we wanted the installation job done right. So, we hired an experienced contractor recommended by the fence company and provided him with farm labor to help hold down the cost. The contractor provided the expertise to properly tension and splice (Fig 1 & 2) the fence and to construct the correct horizontal bracing for corners (Fig. 3) and near gates (Fig. 4). He also pounded/drilled holes for the pressure treated posts (every 60 feet) or galvanized T posts (every 20 feet between wood posts) (Fig. 5). In retrospect, hiring the contractor was the best move I could have made. I can honestly say that we never would have built a fence of the same quality or durability without him.
We used 6,250 feet of 8-foot Solid Lock High Tensile Fence, two 12-foot and a 16-foot wide gates, 120 4x5 pressure-treated poles, 208 galvanized posts and 16 4x6 horizontal corner posts. Materials ($10,500), contractor ($4,500), post hole drilling ($1,200) and farm crew labor ($1,500) cost a total of $17,700. The fence was installed in the spring of 2001 and we have had no deer within the perimeter in the two seasons since installation. When I depreciate the costs over 5 years, the fence will have cost me just $3,540 per year. I have raised 46 acres of vegetables, worth over $173,000 (gross of over $3,600 per acre) on the land in the two seasons since the fence was built (Fig. 6). My net profits on 3-4 acres per year will pay for the fence in 5 years.
In 20:20 hindsight, the only mistake I made was not building the fence years ago!
Fig. 6. Quality vegetables produced on the Cecarelli Farm, protected by deer fence (in background).
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