What happens to small-market farmers when the deer herd in an adjacent park swells to approximately 400 animals in a 2-square-mile area? The farmers run the risk of getting eaten out of business, which is exactly what was happening to Charles Clarke, a Shawnee, Kansas, market gardener trying to grow a couple of acres of tomatoes and other produce. That is, until a friend introduced Charlie to a local electric fencing company with an innovative and effective solution.
“They decimated my garden last year (2008) and had already eaten 50 ‘Jet Star’ tomato plants this year (2009) before I got the garden completely planted,” Charlie says of the deer. “I was ready to give up.”
Although he earns some income from the garden, for Charlie, working the soil is a passion that’s good for his soul.
“I was really depressed because the deer ruined everything,” Charlie says. “I wouldn’t have planted at all this year but my friends and customers encouraged me, and I couldn’t say no.”
The handworked and hand-planted garden was smaller than normal this year – only 262 tomato plants, a row of peppers and a row of eggplant. “I used to grow pumpkins, potatoes and gourds to sell along with the others at the Shawnee City Market,” Charlie says. “Now I have barely enough to stock my table by the road.”
Searching for a solution
“I tried coyote urine, soap bars, conventional electric fencing, and 7-foot-tall plastic mesh fencing,” Charlie says. “But with about 400 hungry deer in the neighborhood, those efforts were completely wasted.”
To imagine working so large a garden by hand, starting all the plants from seed, is to imagine a truly rare labor of love that’s not often observed. To watch the fruit of all that labor get decimated – trampled even – by the local deer herd spurred Charlie’s friend Jay Carlson to help out. Jay’s solution was to contact the Gallagher Power Fence Co. in North Kansas City, Missouri.
“Charlie’s friend had heard of our success with controlling deer in difficult areas,” says Gallagher Regional Sales Manager Dwain Christophersen. “We looked at Charlie’s situation as a challenge and to prove how effective our deer-exclusion technology is.”
Although Gallagher is a household name among farmers and ranchers who employ electric fencing in their pasture management, the company has also played a significant role in developing fencing strategies for protecting high-value crops and food plots from deer and other varmints like raccoons, possums and feral hogs.
Gallagher’s design consists of a fence installed within another fence, and it relies on deer’s inherent problem with depth perception. It also relies, at least to some extent, on the fence not becoming a permanent installation. The inner and outer fences are installed with a 3-foot space between them. Both fences consist of posts set at 30-foot intervals around the perimeter of the garden.
In Charlie’s situation, conductors were installed on the inner fence posts at about 10, 24, 44 and 60 inches above the soil, and on the outer fence posts at about 18 and 34 inches above the soil. In less deer-filled areas, fewer conductors are needed.
“The deer don’t know how far the inner fence is from the outer,” Dwain says. “And they get a harmless but memorable shock when they graze up to the outer.” That shock is delivered by a low-impedance charger that energizes the entire fence. Dwain says it took him about three hours to install the fence from scratch and that similar installations would cost from about $0.80 to $1.50 per foot depending on the length. Longer fences cost less per foot.
To make sure that the fence remains effective, Dwain says it is important to remove the conductors at the end of the growing season, which will take only a little time to do. Pulling the posts is fine too, although it’s not necessary if the garden’s dimensions remain the same. With the conductors gone, the deer will eventually become used to wandering through the garden again. In the spring when the conductors are reinstalled and energized, the deer will have to adjust to something new and relearn the lesson. Mixing it up is part of the success with this system.
Variety of varmints
For folks with a raccoon-ravaged sweet corn patch, Dwain says the design he used on Charlie’s garden can easily be adapted for additional duty. Raccoons will be completely deterred by the installation of up to five additional conductors (depending on the raccoon pressure) on the outside fence at 2-inch intervals from the ground to about 10 inches.
Feral hogs will leave your garden alone with the installation of two more conductors at 14 and 18 inches off the ground. This same system should also deter possums, many dogs and most rabbits.
Electric fencing is designed to be a psychological barrier, and it works by delivering a pulsed, high-voltage electric shock to any animal that touches a conductor while grounded. The effect is similar to the static electricity shocks that vex many people as they shuffle around their homes in winter, then touch some metal object like a doorknob. The fence delivers a similar pain, only it’s much more powerful and memorable to the animals.
Fence chargers approved by testing labs like UL deliver a shock of sufficiently short duration that is considered to be painful but harmless to 2-year-old children. Regardless, whenever you install and charge such a fence, you should ensure that infants and children will not inadvertently come into contact with the fence and minimize the chance of entanglement. Electric fences installed along public rights of way are required in most areas to have warning signs on them.
Bottom line: Choose electric fencing to keep varmints out of your garden only when you can be sure that infants and small children won’t be attracted to the fences.
One more garden saved
Charlie Clarke is delighted with his electric fence and looks forward to many more years of satisfied growing. He is even thinking about expanding his garden next year.
“I might try to get someone to till up the sod,” Charlie says. “But I’ll continue to work it by hand.”
For Charlie, a labor of love will again pay off with the fruits of his labor, thanks to an innovative and effective electric fencing design.
Editor Hank Will is shocked to report that he uses electric fencing to control everything from chickens to Mulefoot swine on his Osage County, Kansas, farm.
For more on fencing supplies, these companies may have what you’re looking for to keep the varmints from your crops.
Gallagher Power Fence Co.130 W. 23rd Ave.
North Kansas City, MO 64116
Kencove Farm Fence Inc.344 Kendall Road
Blairsville, PA 15717
Premier 1 Supply2031 300th St.
Washington, IA 52353
NASCO901 Janesville Ave., P.O. Box 901
Fort Atkinson, WI 53538-0901
4825 Stoddard Road
Modesto, CA 95356
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.