Category Archives: Deer

Working With Nature

Our farm is our haven.  It is a place where we can kick back and relax but it is also where we work. It differs from most work places in that we do not answer to a human boss or employer; instead we answer to nature. The weather and the numbers of hours of daylight largely dictate what we need to do on the farm. Planting, watering, weeding, harvesting are all tasks that are based on the weather.

Our farm is also a haven for many other living beings. We often celebrate the wildlife on the farm as many of them aid in our farming efforts. Others as less celebrated and require more work from us as we have to guard crops and livestock against them. In this post I want show you many of the critters we share our farm with and discuss what we consider best practices (for us) to deal with them.

Rabbits

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Our farm is home to a large rabbit population. One advantage to having rabbits on the farm is that they are preyed upon by many of the same animals that prey upon our chickens. If a hawk, owl or coyote can fill up on a rabbit perhaps they are less likely to go after our chickens. Secondly, even though we are not hunters, in a pinch hunting rabbit as a source of food would be an option.

The disadvantage to having rabbits is that they do enjoy eating many of the foods we grow. So far it has been our experience that rabbits may eat a partial row of greens here or there, but they have not completely destroyed any of our crops. Even the baby bunnies that we discovered living in our strawberry bed last year did not do much damage. I suspect that since there is so much wild vegetation growing on the farm the rabbits are well fed without needing to vandalize our gardens.

We are happy to share our farm with rabbits, and at this point we have not found the need to use any defensive measures against them; even the four babies that were living in the strawberry bed moved out quickly once we began frequenting the area to pick ripe berries.

Squirrels

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Squirrels are another critter that live on our farm. We have a lot of mature hickory and oak trees that provide the food that they need. Squirrels have not become a problem on the farm and they give Trooper a work out every now and then.

Birds

On any given day during the summer I would guess that we may see and/or hear thirty or more species of birds while at that farm. Some we can identify by sight or sound and some still remain anonymous to us.

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Many of the birds, like this Blue Jay, use the pond for bathing and it always a pleasure to watch them take a dip along the waters edge. Blue Jays are omnivorous, with a diet comprised of nuts, seeds, berries, bugs and more.  Interestingly they are known to store acorns, much like a squirrel, to have for food during the winter. I suspect it is because their diet includes such a wide variety of things that we have not found them to be much of a threat to our crops.

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Some birds, like this Orchard Oriole and the Robin below are more of a challenge. Using netting over the blue berry bushes, as the berries start to ripen, is essential if we want to harvest any blue berries for ourselves.

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Even with netting some birds can find their way to the berries.

While netting seems to be our best option with blue berries I have taken a different approach when it comes to Elder Berries. Our Elder Berry bush that is mature enough to produce fruit is over eight feet tall and on a slope, which poses problems when it comes to putting netting over the bush.  I discovered a couple of years ago that the birds do not wait for elder berries to get ripe, they eat them while they are still green. Since my main purpose for growing elder berries is for the medicinal benefits I began harvesting the flowers which also have great medicinal properties.

Last year when we had our first real apple crop we discovered the some birds were eating the apples as they ripened. Again because of the size of these trees netting does not seem a feasible option, so I think this year we will experiment with some of these other deterrents.

Our pond is a main attraction for many species of birds.

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Ducks and geese will occasionally pay us a visit. Fortunately they have not decided to take up residence and raise a family there. I suspect they do not find it a suitable home because of our presence, thus we are a natural deterrent.

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Occasionally both White and Blue Herons stop by the pond for a snack. We can view them from a distance but if we approach the area they quickly fly off.

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This bird had me stumped for a couple of years. During the summer I would see it (more likely them) eating at the edge of the pond. I looked at many bird sites and books and then sought help from others before I could identify it as a Green Heron. I suspect we had a pair nesting in the wooded area near the pond for a couple of years, but last summer I only saw  them a couple of times so they may have nested somewhere else in the area.

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Wild Turkeys live in the area and we occasionally see a flock of them passing though. They do not nest on the farm, probably because we mow the back field in the fall so it does not offer the protection that is needed for their nest.

Insects

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Many Butterflies, or Flutter-bys as I like to call them, with their beautiful colors and patterns, frequent the farm in the summer. They share the task of pollination with our bees and many other insects.

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They can often be found collecting nectar from flowering plants

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or drinking water on the beach. While we see many different species of butterflies they do tend to be camera shy so I have a very limited selection of butterfly photos.

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Dragonflies and damselflies are probably my favorite insects to watch. Unlike the  butterflies who flutter in a somewhat relaxed nature, the dragonflies movement is swift.

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They too come in an array of brilliant colors. They do not bite and in fact at times seem friendly as they hitch a ride on a shirt sleeve. The fact that dragon flies dine heavily on less desirable insects is a huge plus.

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The Praying Mantis is a unique creature that we see occasionally in our area. I actually had to check the spelling of it’s name as he/she is also a preying mantis. This bug does eat other bugs but is not very selective, so while it might aid in ridding us of undesirable insects, it might also eat honey bees and others that we find valuable. Having just a small population of these is okay.

If you are a regular reader you probably know that we are bee keepers so there are a lot of Honey Bees on our farm. Even though these bees did not arrive on our farm naturally and are living in manmade hives rather than a hollow tree, they are considered part of nature on our farm.

We do try to use natural methods of managing our hives. We do not use chemicals in the hive, we do not split hives to keep them from swarming, we do not replace a queen in the hive because we fear she is too old, and we make sure the bees have enough honey left in the hive so that we do not have to feed them sugar water. We usually even save some of the harvested honey in case we find that the bees need to be fed.

Our belief is that a healthy hive can naturally manage themselves so our goal is to help them remain healthy.

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One way to help the bees remain healthy is ensuring that they have a variety of food sources. I have not seen any studies or reports on this but it makes sense that, just as you or I require different foods to build healthy bodies, bees would also be healthier when their diet is comprised of pollen and nectar from a variety of plants.

To accomplish this we allow many plants that grow naturally, and many would consider weeds, to grow on the farm. Among these are dandelions, golden rod, asters and Canadian thistle – all heavily foraged by bees. We also grow flowers, vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and other plants that bees like. Some of these include lavender, thyme, sunflowers, chamomile, clover, buckwheat, squash and pumpkins and apple trees.

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The other thing that bees need is water and again we feel that having a clean water source can contribute to the health of the bees. Honey bees are frequent visitors to the edges of our pond.

Late spring and summer we usually see the hives swarm. This is how honey bees naturally increase in population. When the hive begins to get too crowded they make a new queen. Once the new queen is hatched the old queen leaves the hive with the swarm of workers and drones to create a new colony.

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Most often we attempt to capture the swarm and put them in an empty hive, but sometimes the swarm lands in a place that is inaccessible to us, like 30 feet up in a hickory tree. In this case we wish them well. Since we live in an area where there are hundreds of acres of mature woods, it is not out of the question that these bees can find a suitable home in a hollow tree and survive in the wild.

In return for our stewardship the honey bees provide us with pollination services as well as honey and bees wax.

Deer

There is a large deer population in the area. They probably draw the most attention from visitors at the farm. While some people see Bambi others see venison steaks. As I mentioned before we are not hunters, and the fact is that warm and fuzzy Disney type critters can be very destructive in real life. The deer have been our biggest challenge thus far.

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Deer will eat or at least taste just about anything. The only way to protect our gardens and trees against deer is fencing.

Reportedly white tail deer can jump eight feet, so 7.5 to 8 foot is the recommended height for deer fencing. We have discovered that for fencing our garden areas and trees 4 foot high fencing is sufficient to keep the deer out.

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My theory on this is that four foot fence keeps the deer out because we have not fenced in the whole property, which would have cut off their travel routes. We have only fenced in sections. There is still plenty of clover and grass in the field for them to graze and they are not standing outside our garden coveting our pumpkin and Swiss chard.

Four foot high individual fences also work to protect young trees from the deer. Once the trees braches are higher than the fence the are usually safe because deer don’t generally eat anything higher than their head.

Aquatic Life

Before I begin talking about the life in the pond I really should point out the earth worm in this picture. Earth worms are probably a farmers best friend. They loosen the soil by tunneling through the ground and also add nitrogen to the soil. We are always happy to see earthworms as we are gardening.

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Earthworms also make good bait for catching perch.

When we dug our pond in 2012 my husband, who is knowledgeable about such things decided to build an ecosystem that would support fish and other aquatic life. At it’s deepest point the pond goes down 20+ feet. Before the pond filled with water we put in two piles of large rocks where fish could potentially spawn, find shade or hide from larger predators.

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Our sand beach also extends at least 12 feet into the pond which makes great spawning ground for perch and the windmill works as an aerator pumping air into the pond. In 2013 we stocked the pond with perch, fathead minnows, some walleye, a few channel catfish, and a few pike.

We know that the perch and minnows are breeding in the pond. We know that there are still catfish and walleye living in the pond but have not been able to establish that they have reproduced. We also know that as of last summer we have at least one large mouth bass living there.

Fish are the only thing we added to they pond. All of the rest of the living beings showed up on their own.

IMG_2911Among those frogs are a favorite. Frogs and toads are very useful on the farm as they eat lots of bugs and slugs and such.

Last year we happened to be at the farm on frog mating day. The frogs were very loud that day. Their high pitched, drawn out, melodious chirps filled the air.

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As we walked toward the area that the sound was coming from it was quite incredible to see dozens, if not hundreds, of frogs gathered in the pond. We have identified several types of frogs and toads on the farm and they are all welcome.

Turtles are also amongst those who have taken up residence in our pond. At this point we have only seen painted turtles which are harmless and at times even humorous.

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They also tend to be camera shy so my photo selection is limited. The turtles are reproducing on the farm as each year we see the cutest little baby turtles.

In touching on the benefits and challenges that these beings provide to our farming efforts I did not mention the greatest gift they offer. “Peaceful” is the word most commonly used by visitors to describe our farm.

Maybe you can picture it – squirrels scampering from tree to tree or rabbits playing tag in the yard; a herd of deer grazing in the field; listening to a symphony of songbirds while tending the garden; being serenaded by a chorus of frogs, in three part harmony, as you sit around an evening campfire.

It is uplifting, it is relaxing, it is peaceful, it is serene, it is tranquil, and it will make you smile. All of the creatures that make up this ecosystem provide an environment that is seemingly anti-stressIt is healthy for the mind, body and spirit and we are blessed to be part of it.

I hope you enjoyed visiting our farm. Please feel free to share you thoughts in the comments section below.

 

Welcome

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Welcome Friends!

I have to start with a huge THANK YOU to everyone reading this. When I first started writing this blog, about two and a half years ago, I never imagined it would be what it has become. I figured I might have a few people who would read it regularly – friends and family that know and love me. For quite a while that was the case. Occasionally I would look at my stats and see that no one had viewed my blog for several days and I wondered if it was worth writing, then a friend or family member would mention how much they enjoyed reading it. That was all I needed to inspire me to keep writing.

Today I am amazed as I look at my blog stats and see that people from all over the world, 67 countries at last count, have visited my little piece of the internet. Since visiting my blog is often much like a visit to our home or our farm it occurred to me that many visitors probably have no idea where in the world we are at, so if you are curious I will give you some direction. I will start by saying that we are in Michigan which is a state in the USA.

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If you are not familiar with Michigan you can find it easily on the map above. Michigan is the state that is shaped like a mitten, well at least part of Michigan is. Our state is unique in that it is made up of two peninsula’s. The lower peninsula is shaped like a mitten and the upper peninsula, you can see on the above map, is the piece of land to the North that extends Westward or to the left (its upper border is outlined in red). Interestingly, while lower Michigan is bordered by the U.S. States of Indiana and Ohio to the South and Upper Michigan is bordered by the U.S. State of Wisconsin to the West, Michigan’s two peninsulas do not share a common border. They are separated by the Straits of Mackinac, which are a series of narrow water ways that connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. To travel from one peninsula to the other, by car, you must cross the Mackinac Bridge, which is nearly 5 miles long and said to be the forth longest suspension bridge in the world.  http://www.mackinac.com/about/mackinac-bridge Because Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes and adjoining waterways there are also many islands that are part of our state.

To give you a better idea of where we are in Michigan I would hold up my right hand with the palm facing you and my fingers held tightly together (like a mitten) and point to an area near the bottom of my thumb. Michiganders are known for using their hand as a map. Our little piece of the earth is 7.6 acres of farm land in a rural area North East of  Detroit and South West of Port Huron. Some of it is wooded and some of it is open field. We put in a pond as a source of fresh water in 2012, but have yet to build a house on the property.

Like much of the U.S. this winter has been brutally cold here in Michigan, but I thought today I would invite you to take a walk with me. Don’t worry we won’t have to put on an extra 10 lbs. of gear to survive the freezing temperatures and trudge through the snow, because this part of the post I actually started writing last summer.

During the warm seasons, spring after the snow melts, summer, and fall until the snow gets too deep, I like to walk our back field. We keep a path cut around the outside of the field and two paths that cut across the middle. We allow the rest of the field to grow wild during the summer and we mow it each fall. It’s interesting that each year different plants seem to dominate the field. This field, which many people would view as a field full of weeds, we see as a field full of wild flowers. Not only does it provide habitat and food for countless bunnies, birds, rodents, toads and insects, the deer graze it regularly, and it is home to many plants that our bees love to forage.

I usually start my walks on the East side of the property, heading North and off to our left you will notice a large fenced in area. This is our main garden, where we grow much of our own produce in the summer. We also have 5 apple trees growing within this area and we moved our entire blueberry patch in here as well. It didn’t take us long to learn that fencing is the best way to protect our vegetation from deer.

As we walk toward the field I will look for deer grazing. This will be our best chance to see deer because Scout and Trooper will undoubtedly be with us and will frighten off any deer. The boys have been taught that they can only chase the deer as far as our property line and it has become a game for Trooper. I suspect if the deer ever decided to stay and play he would have a ball with them…but they don’t.

We may see one or two, we may see a mother with her baby(s) or we may see 20 or more deer grazing in the field. On a rare occasion we might witness a scene that feels like something out of a Disney movie. Like this red winged black bird that rides on the back or head of this deer.

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One day when Trooper was walking with me he scared the deer off. The blackbird that had been sitting on the back of the deer began diving at Troopers back, obvious angry at him. The bird never touched Trooper and because the bird was diving at his back he was oblivious to it and bird eventually flew off.

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While the deer are beautiful to watch, are seemingly harmless and our guests get very excited to see them, we have come to see them as a nuisance.  We have invested much money, time and energy to protect our crops against deer. It seems that deer will eat or at least taste anything … except garlic.

When we first bought the farm and we asked a neighbor how he kept the deer from eating his garden he said “plant enough for you and plant enough for the deer.” While his advice sounded good in theory, we quickly learned that it doesn’t work. The deer apparently did not understand the concept; they would walk through the pumpkin patch and rather than eat just one or two whole pumpkins they would take a few bites out of many pumpkins. Thus we concluded that the best way to protect our plants, including young trees, is adequate fencing.

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Beyond the main garden the rest of our property is open fieled. The bright yellow flowers that are blanketing the field at this time are Bird’s Foot Trefoil. The first year we had the farm I notice one small patch of this plant growing in the field. It’s brilliant flowers caught my attention so I did some research to find what it was. Each year I have noticed more and more Trefoil. I suspect that as we cut the field in the fall we are scattering it’s seeds throughout the field. Trefoil is a legume that is used for animal forage, cut for hay, or planted to prevent soil erosion.  https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_loco6.pdf One thing we have discovered, that is not mentioned in this USDA fact sheet, is that honey bees like it. This in itself is enough for me to appreciate this plant.

The small white flowers tinged with pink are White Clover. https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_trre3.pdf  This is another plant that we highly value as the honey bees feed heavily on the blossoms. While we did not plant the clover in the back field, we have planted a mix of clover and grass seed in areas that we have landscaped. Clover is a nice addition to lawn areas as it can be mowed and it will grow back, and even blossom, repeatedly throughout the summer. It is also nice to walk on barefoot, and we have noticed that it seems to crowd out other unwanted plants like thistle.

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Young Spruce trees line the East and North sides of our property. We began planting these in our second year here. We purchase the 12″ to 15″ seedlings and keep them in a nursery area for one or more seasons to give them time to grow and develop roots and branches, then we transplant them around the farm. Most of these were planted in 2012.

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Canadian Thistle grows sporadically throughout the field and other places on the farm. We mostly consider this plant a menace despite the pretty purple flowers that also have a lovely fragrance, their only saving grace is in the fact that the honey bees like them.

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This white flower with feathery leaves is Yarrow  https://draxe.com/yarrow/ . I have noticed Yarrow growing in various areas on the farm over the past few years but this past year was the first time I noticed it in the back field. According to the above article yarrow is both a culinary and medicinal plant. I not sure why I have not harvested any yet.

IMG_2937In the photo above the Timothy Hay is somewhat camouflaged amongst the other greenery, but if you look toward the top of the photo just left of center you can see Timothy’s long thin seed heads that are a lighter green. Small patches of Timothy are scattered throughout  the field and each year I notice a little more. As we walk past the Timothy I will likely pull on one of the seed heads and as I do the seed head along with the top portion of the stem will slide out of the lower part of the stem. I will put the stem in my mouth and you will no doubt think the I am a hick. I will then pull a second one and offer it to you explaining that Timothy is the best weed for chewing. The end of the inner stem is soft and juicy and even a bit sweet. I lightly chew the end for a while before discarding it later along the way.

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Along the West side of the field is a line of trees that runs the full length of the property and separates our property from the neighbors next to us. The tree line is composed of mature trees, mostly Oak, Maple, Ash, and Hickory, along with various bushes and shrubs and vines that makeup the undergrowth. Unfortunately, the Ash trees in Michigan have fallen prey to, and are being killed off by the Emerald Ash Borer, thus we have cut down nearly all of the dead Ash trees to use for firewood.  As we cut trees down we are also planting new trees. In the above photo you can see the large dead Ash tree to the right and the young Maple that we planted a couple years back in the center foreground. You may also spot some Timothy growing there. Yep, it’s okay to pull one to chew. I knew you would find them as irresistible as I do. 😉

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As we circle back around we are now at the West end of the main garden. This is where we moved our Blue Berry Patch to. Having been in a different location for several years we weren’t sure how well the bushes would adapt to this new environment. They have seemed to do well and while we no longer worry about the deer eating them since they are in the fenced area, we still have to protect the fruit from birds, thus the netting over them.

Well, my friend, thank you for spending this time with me. I hope you enjoyed our walk in the field. If you aren’t ready to leave feel free to hang around and enjoy some more of our farm. You can do so by clicking on the following links.

https://donteatitsoap.com/2017/06/28/pond-pictures-relax-and-enjoy/

https://donteatitsoap.com/2017/08/12/gone-fishing/

https://donteatitsoap.com/2017/05/25/five-hives/

https://donteatitsoap.com/2017/09/05/our-harvest-picnic/

https://donteatitsoap.com/2017/05/22/this-season-on-chicken-tv/

https://donteatitsoap.com/2017/05/31/a-beautiful-monday/

and if you would like to return you can always do so by following my blog. Please feel free to leave your questions and comments below as two sided conversations are much more fun.

 

 

 

 

It’s Rutting Season. Why You Should Care.

This afternoon as we were driving back from the farm we saw two deer run across the road. Fortunately they were far enough ahead of us that we didn’t have to slow down, but my husband said, “When you talk to the girls remind them that it is rutting season”.

The girls have heard this term before as every year since they have been driving we give them the warning. Rutting or mating season means an increase in deer activity. The deer are often running at full speed, a male chasing a female, and have no awareness of, or regard for, traffic in the area. So when we tell the girls that it is rutting season we warn them to be extra carful when driving.

What should they do to be extra careful?

  • Focus on driving. Do not allow yourself to become distracted by passengers, eating, cell phones or anything else.
  • Scan from right to left taking in as much of the area as you can.
  • Slow down, especially if you are in an area where you cannot see far off to the side of the road.
  • Use bright lights when driving at night if there is not oncoming traffic.
  • If a deer runs in front of you DON’T SWERVE. Swerving increases the risk of hitting oncoming traffic, trees or other objects, or even losing control and rolling the vehicle. It is better to slow your car down as much as possible to try to avoid, or at least lessen, the impact.

http://cultureofsafety.thesilverlining.com/driving/deer-vs-car-collisions

http://www.outdoorweekend.net/Articles-In-This-Issue-i-2013-10-01-216769.112113-PEAK-RUT.html

While these are practices that we should all use every time we drive, reality is we don’t, and sometimes it’s good to have a reminder.

Please drive safe.