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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.