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Back Off, Rudolph!

Hair clippings, cayenne pepper and raw eggs are just a few of the odd ingredients recommended to keep those pesky deer away from your backyard garden. But what about farmers who have hundreds of acres of Christmas trees to protect?

NC State researchers, led by Jeff Owen, a Christmas-tree production specialist, are exploring the use of inexpensive, inedible food byproducts such as dried blood and egg powder, which typically are sold in bulk to the pet-food industry to be used for flavoring. Their findings are an early Christmas present for tree farmers.

“The decaying smell actually elicits a fear response in the deer and keeps them away from the crops,” Owen says. “We’re continuing to look at similar products, like liver powder and fishmeal, to see if they work the same way.”

Needles and the Damage Done

Owen says that Christmas-tree farms in North Carolina have long dealt with deer that harm the trees by horning (thrashing market-sized trees with their antlers to mark territory) and browsing (eating the buds and shoots off young trees). Damage can be so extensive that growers have abandoned fields of young trees.

According to Owen, commercial deer repellents cost at least $18 per pound, while the dried blood or egg powder runs less than $2 per pound. When you consider that growers use 10 pounds per acre and make two or three applications over the fall and winter, the savings are significant.

“The impact of deer browsing and horning can cost thousands of dollars in lost product and increased expense. And with the economy in the state it is, the growers can’t pass those expenses on to the consumer,” Owen says.

But before home gardeners run to place orders for rancid egg powder, Owen offers some words of wisdom.

“Our growers get these products in 50-pound bags or even 2,000-pound pallets, and have to mix the egg powder or dried blood into a solution to be sprayed. It’s not the prettiest process,” he says. “For the average homeowner, the pre-made commercial deer repellent should be more than adequate, provided you rotate repellents from time to time.”

The N.C. Christmas Tree Association provided support for the research.

Responses (5 Comments)

  • Denny Tart

    I have 1 acre of strawberries. Deer have walked all over and pulled up some of my plants 2 days after I started planting. My neighbor allows his cows out next to my strawberries with electric wires. I don’t see any deer now. Others have recommended to use electric wires.

    Thanks for your idea with dried blood and powdered eggs.

  • effects

    NCSU knows to explore all questions. Has research been done regarding does blood retain any dangers when dried? If a warm rain came could an animal with a cut, including humans, be infected if that dried blood carried bacteria/virus?

  • Fred Wellons

    In removing water from blood (drying), the heating process has been shown to destroy pathogens such as salmonella, e. coli, etc. and even the agent for transmission of TSE or BSE.

    Back to deer, I made up a homemade spray bottle of vinegar, egg, milk, cayenne pepper and water which I used on my home garden this year. It worked as long as we didn’t have a couple of rains, I found I had to reapply. This solution would be too expensive for commercial growers.

    Another solution would be dried meat and bone meal or blood meal applied to the soil. MBM is high in nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus; blood meal is high in nitrogen.These products are already used in fertilizers and soil amendments and, as they are broken down by nature, they would be adding valuable nutrients to the soil … possibly reducing fertilizer requirements.

  • Sue Lewandowski

    I heard this info some time ago on NPR and finally looked up the article. My husband makes a homemade concoction of sour milk, eggs and other stinky stuff and it works fine to deter deer. You have to be vigilant about re-applying after rain, of course. Re: handling dried blood in soil (meal or otherwise) I think it’s a good idea to wear gloves in the garden – no matter what. The current issue of Fine Gardening has a brief article about commercial potting soils containing organisms that aren’t safe for everyone to handle or inhale. So if you start plants in pots indoors, then transfer to the garden – wear gloves. Can’t hurt!

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