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Notice to deer: buffet closed

Andy Thornburg doesn’t make any money feeding deer. He makes money growing row crops.

The Wilmer, Ala., farmer, however, couldn’t grow any crops on a 23-acre field that attracted more deer than a wildlife officer could count.

“Before we put up this fence, you could come in here and see 50 or 60 deer in this field,” Thornburg says, pointing toward a solar panel attached to a battery and two rows of fencing. “One of the state game wardens told me that after the fence was put up, he’d come out at night and see nothing but eyeballs behind it.”

Those were deer with their mouths watering. The fence left the deer hungry and Thornburg and his partner in the field, Driskell Farms, with a potential for profit. The fence cost about $4,000; the farmers’ loss in 2008 was $40,000 for the cotton entree they served the deer. Thornburg notes that the cost per acre is less on bigger fields because the $1,300 solar charger powers 20 miles of fence.

Key Points

• Deer damage cost one southern Alabama farm $40,000 in 2008.

• A $4,000 fence has dropped that loss to zero.

• The solar-powered fence is nearly maintenance-free.


On this field, the farmers used the Loney Fortner method of the Mega Fence, a stouter version than the Charles Dean method.

“Both the Loney Fortner and Charles Dean methods work,” says Alabama regional Extension agent Richard Petcher. “The idea of the two separate fences is to disorientate the deer and hogs. They hit one fence and continue through, but when they hit the second fence it gives them a second opinion, and normally they decide it is not worth the shock just to eat a little cotton.”

Petcher reminds growers to keep fence rows clean so weeds don’t grow up and short out the fence.

Other than that, Thornburg says, the Mega Fence is nearly maintenance-free.

Hunting and using spray material to ward off the deer was labor-intensive and didn’t work, Thornburg notes. Spray material was expensive. Shooting the deer helped minimize damage, but did not prevent it.

“We made a crop this year,” he says. “It’s made a believer out of me. I’m going to put up five or six miles of it [this year], maybe more than that.”

Compare these wildlife fence options

Alabama regional Extension agent Richard Petcher offers this comparison of three wildlife fence styles.

Loney Fortner Method of the Mega Fence

A three-strand, high-tinsel electric fence is constructed around a field. The strand interval is 18 inches, 36 inches and 54 inches above the ground. Three feet out from this fence is a one-strand high-tinsel electric fence placed 18 inches above the ground.

The posts for the three strands are T posts placed 50 to 60 feet apart, and the outside posts are rebar.

Charles Dean Method of the Mega Fence

A two-strand, high-tinsel electric fence is constructed around a field. The strand interval is 24 and 48 inches above the ground. Three feet inside the fence is a one-strand high-tinsel electric fence placed 24 inches above the ground.

Charles Dean Method of the Deer String Fence

This design is economical and easy to build. It has been very successful in preventing damage from deer.

Use fiberglass posts instead of rebar, as the fiberglass will flex and bend instead of the deer knocking the insulators off the posts and the fence grounding out. The string recommended for this is a copper string because it is 70 times more conductive than stainless steel. This string also gives a little more bend than wire. This string will take a smaller fence charger and battery to push the same amount of current.

The string needs to be placed 24 inches above the ground for deer. Growers may want to try two strands of string to deter hogs. Make one strand around 10 inches up and the other 24 inches up.

Taylor Fence Inc., Ashville, Ala., manufactures the copper string and electric fence chargers. Call 205-594-5971 for more information.

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NOT A FOOD PLOT: Andy Thornburg and Driskell Farms, Thornburg’s partner in this 23-acre field, couldn’t shoot deer fast enough to protect their cotton. They found a solution when they installed this solar-powered wildlife fence in 2009.

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SUCCULENT SOYBEAN: Deer damage cost southwestern Alabama row-crop farmers about $16 million in 2008.

This article published in the March, 2010 edition of SOUTHERN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.