This winter, it isn’t the weather that’s putting stress on the livestock food supply at Sky Range Ranch. It’s the deer.
|Mule deer in the woods. These native deer tend to winter on the hillsides eating sagebrush or in the woods eating brush.|
Even though whitetail deer are smaller, they are more aggressive. The newcomer whitetails have displaced most of the mule deer on our creek. We’ve had many whitetail does raise their fawns in our fields and pastures and we enjoy seeing them. But over the last several years, their numbers have increased and they have suddenly become a serious winter problem.
Every year, we buy some alfalfa hay to augment the small amount of grass hay we put up for our cattle and horses. The whitetails have decided that alfalfa is the best free lunch in town. While a few have nibbled on our haystacks in winters past, a year ago they came in such numbers that we had to try to fence them out of the stack yard. They not only ate big holes in the hay bales but they wasted even more by pawing and pulling it out of the bales and trampling on it. We had elk panels around the stack yard but had to button things up even tighter to keep out these little deer that could weasel through very small spaces.
The whitetails also started eating off our feed truck, which is always loaded with hay for the next morning’s feeding, and they ate the big alfalfa bales we leave next to the heifer pasture. We bought big tarps to cover the hay truck and the heifer hay, though tarping and un-tarping it at every feeding time has made an extra chore.
This winter has been even worse. In spite of our elk panels and blockades, 20 or more whitetail deer have found a way into the stack yard, going through the creek to get under the fence and eating on our stack at night. Even after we put poles across the creek, they found another way in. So in mid-January, our daughter Andrea and her kids brought their two young dogs down to the stack yard and tied one at each end of the stack. They made a doghouse for each of them and while Jasper patrolled one end of the haystack, Olive worked the other, guarding the hay from the deer.
|Jasper guarding one end of the stack...|
|...and Olive guarding the other end.|
|Deer waiting for feeding time, to eat with the heifers|
|Netting around haystack|
|Jasper in his new location|
|Olive, guarding the field|
Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey’s Guide to Training Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. She blogs at heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com. Her newest book, Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, published by The Frontier Project, Inc., is now available.