The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

An epidemic of deer

Watering the garden

HuckleberryThis has been a deer-filled week, but not a single nibble in the garden...yet.  First, it became abundantly clear that the last week of June was when fawns were being born in 2012.  Bradley saw a deer in labor down by the creek early in the week, and when I walked that way the next day, I found hoofprints the size of a thumbprint in the little bit of mud that has survived the drought.

Thursday, we were all working outside when a bleat like the cry of a goat made us drop our tools in puzzlement.  We don't have neighbors with goats, but the more avid hunter in our midst (that's Bradley, in case you haven't guessed) knew immediately that the sound was the call of a frightened fawn.  Sure enough, two does were down past the barn and a fawn was fleeing in the opposite direction, startled by Lucy.  The mother deer started to come at Lucy with her hooves, but our smart dog had too much sense to engage and just raced around in excitement.

Cats at playI'm pretty sure that fawn eventually made it back to its mother after Lucy lost interest, but Friday Lucy showed up with a fawn hindquarter between her jaws.  From reading too many mystery novels, I knew to look at the size of the maggots on the flesh, which told me that the fawn had probably died before the barn bleater was sighted.  Again, our hunting advisor had the best analysis of the situation --- the fawn had probably been caught in the machine when our neighbor hayed his field a few days before.

All of this was minor compared to the excitement Saturday morning.  I rolled out of bed and settled into my usual spot on the couch with a view of the entire front garden and blueberry patch...and a deer!  The first invader of the garden in 2012!

On closer inspection, it turned out that the doe had injured herself jumping over the fence in the night.  She was limping around our inner perimeter looking for a way out, but was unable to jump the fence with her broken or sprained leg.

Cat biting throatI spent too long thinking through my options, so disaster struck.  First, it ran through my head that if the deer had gotten into the garden once, she'd be back.  Plus, how long would she last in the wild with an injured leg?  Might as well put her out of her misery (and eat her).

On the other hand, what if she had a fawn like all of the other does I'd seen recently?  Did I want the poor baby to starve?  (Well, maybe I did --- after all, we're badly overpopulated with deer in our region.)  And, of course, it's not hunting season, so shooting the deer in my garden would be illegal.  Finally, we're in for record heat this weekend, so processing would have to be fast.

Before I could make up my mind, Lucy made up hers.  The deer had seen me and gotten alarmed, battering herself against the fence behind our water tank, and our usually even-tempered dog ran up there and actually went straight for the deer's throat!  It was like a scene out of Call of the Wild, and I was terrified the deer would slice Lucy open with her hooves.  (I don't have any relevant photos, so Huckleberry is recreating the Battle of the Deer for your viewing pleasure, using his brother as a prop.)

Cats in chairs

To protect our beloved dog, I would have shot the deer in a heartbeat, but I'm simply not a good enough marksman to fire into a tangle of dog and deer and think I'd only hit the latter.  Plus, there was our precious water tank inches away from the melee.  While I hollered ("Lucy!  No!"), the deer burst through the fence and got away.

Ferocious catThe moral of the story is: I need to work on my target practicing and decision making.  Or rather, I need to think through issues like this before they show up in my garden at 6 am on a Saturday.  Am I willing to shoot a deer in the garden out of hunting season?  What if she probably has a fawn?  For the hunters among you, what would you do?

(Huckleberry says he'd take the deer down and gnaw on its bones!)

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional, filthy waterers.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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We had similar thoughts about a deer with a totally non-functional front leg that we saw in our yard. The leg would swing, and the hoof touch the ground, but she couldn't put any weight on it. If we'd been hunters, we would have shot her. Four years later, we were still seeing her, keeping up with the herd with her two fawns. The leg atrophied and snugged up to her belly, and she seemed to do just fine on three legs, especially at high speed. Go figure!
Comment by Emily Mon Jul 2 10:54:20 2012
Emily --- Wow! I'm amazed your deer was able to continue on with her daily life with only three legs. My mom had a three-legged dog before I was born, though, and I hear it plugged right along too. I guess losing a leg isn't the end of the world if you've got four....
Comment by anna Mon Jul 2 16:37:23 2012

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