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The abundance of deer in this area will turn out to be a blessing

By Pamela Costenbader
Posted Saturday, March 7, 2009

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Pittsboro, NC - As an organic farmer in the area I would like to add my two cents to the deer population debate. Chatham County has a huge deer population, they are part of our environment and I too love to see them, however, feeding them is not a natural part of the process.

A herd of deer can wipe out your whole crop in one night

Man, cars and coyotes are the only predators that Chatham has to help maintain the balance of the herds. In times past, they were heavily hunted for food, not sport (and with the
current economic situation could be once again a mainstay of our diets). In this day and age however, they do not the same pressure on them from hunters, who I would guess, would be their main predators. As someone who is trying to make a living providing sustainable, healthy food to the public, I can tell you that they cost all of us a lot of money.

Regardless of the amount of acreage they have to browse on, they will always come to the crops before they eat the naturally occurring food available to them. The impact is that it cost far more for the farmer to provide the public with affordable, sustainable and local food. A herd of deer can wipe out your whole crop in one night, meaning you have a loss from seed and plant expense, labor and even non crop expense like row cover that they will simply tear through.

One can try to fence them out, but they can jump most fences. I have seen them clear a fence that was eight feet tall with no problem. I have also seen them go through deer netting and simply jump electric fencing. This creates a problem beyond the tick bourn disease issue, they are taking food out of our mouths as well as leaving behind ticks that we collect on ourselves as we work to care for our crops. Some days we will remove as many as 20 ticks off our bodies at the end of a hard day of work in our rows.

My husband has hunted for years, and has never shot a trophy buck although he has had ample opportunity to do so. He sticks with the younger bucks and does because we use them as a food source and the meat is more tender and less gamey. We use every scrap of the carcass, tanning the hides, using the less desirable portions of meat to make jerky, sausage and
dog food. The only part we don't consume is the bones.

There are plenty of large, 100 pound plus does in the area who regularly have not one, but two fawns and year and who sometimes are bred twice in a season. Folks who obtain all their meat from the supermarket are very detached from the source of their food, cows, chickens and pigs are all intelligent, beautiful animals. If you have ever raised your own meat you realize this and develop a sensitivity to this fact.

We have as a nation, in the past 50 years or so, become rather detached from the process of feeding ourselves. The development of factory type farming (huge scale farms and processing plants) and the prosperity of our country that has lead to most folks having a day job that removes us from the process of feeding our families by raising or harvesting our own food. Most folks buy meat, milk, eggs and produce at the grocery store and never really think twice about the source of any of these products or how or where they were produced. We also have experienced a changing of perspective on wildlife through what I think of as the Bambiization of animals. The development of a TV in every living room has
changed how many people see deer, penguins, and most other animals by humanizing them. We honor and love the animals we raise and consume but have a clear understanding of why we are raising them or hunting them. I don't think that non hunters should view the harvest of wildlife as a negative or dishonorable practice. At least we are aware of the cost to the animals that we consume and do our best to honor that cost.

It is my most sincere hope that our country's and the world economic situation improve in the very near future, but if things get worse many more people could find themselves depending on the backyard garden and wildlife as their primary food source. If this happens the abundance of deer in this area will turn out to be a blessing that could serve many.

Until we see how things go, I think we should all try to be tolerant of each other's life styles and efforts to protect our way of earning a living.

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