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Deer pose big problems for farmers

The growing deer herds aren’t just affecting forests. They also pose more than a nuisance to farmers.

Four trophy bucks adorn Brad Draudt’s small office, including the 10-pointer he shot two years ago at his hunting camp in Steuben County. But it’s the deer herds not fixed to the walls of his Clark Street office that cause the most trouble to the Hamburg farmer and greenhouse manager.

Draudt estimates his business can lose up to 500 lettuce plants overnight from deer browsing – not to mention his cauliflower, broccoli and bean plants.

“Literally, they can eat half a field,” Draudt said.

Draudt has tried many strategies to keep the deer away without success.

He fenced in part of the farm, but the deer got in and out anyway.

Draudt used human hair and predator urine to keep them at bay. That worked – for a couple of days.

He even tried spraying pepper sauce on some crops, but it only makes for unmarketable, spicy lettuce.

Draudt has a nuisance permit to hunt deer out of season and even pays a sentry, armed with a bow and arrows, to watch his fields.

That doesn’t seem to matter.

“The guy hunts until 9 p.m., then the deer just come out at 11 or 12,” Draudt said. “Deer are, by far, the worst animal problem we have.

“I don’t have an answer,” he said.

Geography might be his biggest problem.

The four fields Draudt farms are in the towns of Hamburg or Orchard Park – within a couple of miles of the Clark Street greenhouse.

That’s prime deer territory on the landscape nowadays, according to experts, because it provides prime and vast selections of food, shelter and restrictions on hunting.

“Urban areas seem to function as shelter for the deer,” said Martin Dovciak, an assistant professor and Roosevelt Forest ecologist at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. “They like the fragmented landscape. They can hide in the woods and come out and eat your tulips.”