Deer-proof plants – yeah, sure…

When we first moved to Montana we didn’t realize how hard it would be to live with the deer, in terms of gardening, that is. After a few years of gardening in denial, I finally realized that I was going to have to fence whatever I didn’t want the deer to eat. I used to buy plants that have that nifty little symbol of the deer in the red circle with the line across it, meaning the deer wouldn’t eat that plant. Yeah, right.

Bleeding Heart. They grow well with ferns as both like shade and moisture. And they grow really fast!

The only things my particular deer population won’t eat (so far as I’ve discovered) are Bleeding Hearts, ferns, daffodils and lavender. And sweet woodruff, which is a groundcover that has pretty white blooms. And lambium, which is also groundcoverish and has pretty pink blooms. So okay. There are a few things I can get away with outside my fenced area, and in 14 years this is all that I found that is safe. Luckily, all the greenery looks good against the cedar-stained siding of my house. I could also have white daisies but they are considered a weed here and they take over everything so I now pull those without ceremony.

We’re on a deer super-highway here, meaning that their daily migration pattern goes smack dab through our property. It’s most evident in the winter when you can see the trail they use. My big garden complex sits right in the path of their trail, of course, but I’ve got it properly fenced and white-flagged, and they leave it alone. Someone once suggested planting orach for the deer, which is similar to spinach, but I didn’t think it would be a great idea to give them an excuse to hang around more. I’ve had deer walk up on my front porch and eat my potted flowers! I mean, I like the deer and all, but really…



A Close Encounter

Yesterday we had a close encounter with a deer. I walked out on the back deck to play with the dogs and heard the tell-tale squeak of the fence, which meant that a deer had just jumped over it and hit the wire. Usually, no big deal. However, I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and realized that a deer was actually caught in the fence. I saw him frantically jerking his leg trying to get free of the fence. I went into panic mode and ran in the house calling for Steve.

I immediately called my next-door neighbor, who’s an outdoorsy kind of guy, and asked his advice. He said he recommended throwing a blanket over the deer if we were going to try and rescue it, simply to protect ourselves from flailing legs. Then he said to call Fish & Wildlife, who would send out a game warden. While I was looking up the number and telling all this to Steve, I realized it was too late in the day to get the game warden out here, and there was simply no time to wait. In the meantime, Steve had donned gloves and hat, grabbed a blanket, and was headed outside (my hero!).

I put my gloves on and followed him. The deer became agitated as we approached and he heard our voices. Several of his family members were standing nearby. At this point, the deer was basically hanging from the fence, jerking his leg occasionally and generally freaking out. I was really worried that he was doing a lot of damage to his leg and we were anxious to get him free. Steve threw the blanket over his head and he immediately went still. Bonus!

We saw that he had caught his foot in one of the wire squares of the game fence and in the course of jumping over had twisted the wire around his hoof really tightly. There’s no way this little guy was going to get free on his own. We fiddled with the fence and luckily his little hoof slid free pretty quickly. I gently lowered his hoof to the ground, trying to make sure his whole leg was in a fairly normal position. It didn’t feel like anything was broken and because the fencing is made from heavy gauge wire it didn’t cut into his skin at all.

We kept him covered with the blanket and he just lay there panting. At this point he was on the other side of the fence from us, so I just kept a hand on him through the holes in the fence. After about a minute he stood up and bolted, taking the blanket with him. The blanket fell off and he took off with his family. He looked to be in okay shape and his leg seemed to be working.

What a relief! If I hadn’t been out back just at that time and seen the deer caught in the fence, we probably never would have noticed him since he was caught in a place that we can’t see from inside the house. A thunderstorm blew in less than an hour later, so he would have hung in the fence all night and died from exposure. I’m so glad we were able to rescue this little teenager. The deer have been hanging out in our pasture a lot recently, so we’ll probably see this guy again.

We took down most of our fencing last year since we don’t have livestock and the fence was constantly being knocked askance by the deer. We didn’t have barbed wire or anything. The fence this deer was caught in is the remaining fence that separates our property from our neighbors property. Nothing like this has happened in the 14 years we’ve lived here. Once a moose got turned around in the back part of our pasture, but he simply kicked the fencing until he made a hole. :-)

We’re glad it all turned out okay…



Turkey day

Every day is Turkey Day at the ranch these days. The turkey herd (is it a herd?) that lives in the neighborhood have started visiting twice a day, minimum, since I put out birdfeeders a few months ago. They come around to scrounge up the stuff that spills out of the feeders. They’re kind of skittish but they don’t seem to mind the construction mess and noise too much. I can even go out there while they’re here and throw out some more food on the ground. That’s when the fun starts! These turkeys are rather vicious to each other. They’re fat and sassy and they have attitude. They also have no compunction about leaving turkey poop all over the place. Molly thinks it’s a buffet. Ewww!


Dooney’s Wild Kingdom

What! I’m just bein’ me!

Something I never experienced until I moved to Montana is having wild animals in my home. Our younger cat, Little Miss, is the one who has made this happen. Little Miss is a voracious hunter, sometimes bring three or four squirrels in the house in one day. (!) The good side to this is that she’s healthy and self-sufficient. The bad side is….she likes to share! Yep, as any owner of a hunting cat will tell you, they love to show you how great a hunter they are.

Little Miss will typically hunt in the wee hours of the morning (5 am), coming back in sometimes only minutes after she’s gone out and yowling loudly to let us know she was successful. Usually at night it’s a mouse. With any luck, it’s dead. Sammy usually runs downstairs to see if he can get her to drop it. Again, I always lay in bed hoping the mouse is already dead. Otherwise, I’m the one who has to hunt it down the next day and rescue it. One early morning she brought it up to our loft bedroom and let it go, so the next morning I woke up with a mouse on top of my feet!

During the day, just about anything goes. Little Miss has brought in birds, squirrels, mice (of course), and on two occasions a ruffled grouse that was bigger than her. Several times I’ve had to catch birds, and once I had to catch a squirrel that she thought would be a nice addition to the upstairs bathroom. In any case, she almost always brings her kill inside to eat it. Steve somehow taught her to take it into the downstairs bath and jump into the big clawfoot tub to eat it. That way, the mess is contained and easy to clean up, and if it’s a live mouse, it can’t get out of the tub and run around the house.

One day, however, I had the tub full of water and she jumped in there with a mouse. I heard a huge splash and she came running out of the bathroom soaking wet and without the mouse. So, I put on my mouse-catcher gloves that day. After that fiasco, Little Miss starting taking her kills into the shower in that bathroom, which works pretty well too. However, when we have guests I always tell them to check the shower before they step in. :-)

I’ve already blogged about the bats in the house, which Boots was kind enough to help me with. Our new roof will take care of the bat intrusions. Luckily, Little Miss seems to be slowing down a bit as she gets older, and this past summer she didn’t bring in nearly the variety of animals she has in the past, and I think all the squirrels in the neighborhood know to stay away from our house!



Those pesky jays

Every spring and fall, a couple of Stellars Jays come to visit, sit on the porch railing, and scream at me to give them something to eat. They usually stay a week or so and then they’re gone. This year, I put out some cute birdfeeders that I got from Gardener’s Supply and the jays have stopped screaming and started pigging out.

The new feeders are just like a glass tire shape and the feed sits in the bottom. The birds can sit on the edge or jump inside and pig out. I have mine hanging in the aspen trees out front. This one jay couldn’t figure out how to get inside the bird feeder, so he hopped around the branches awhile, then started bouncing on a branch near the feeder. As he bounced close to the feeder, he would stick his head inside and grab a bite of food. It was hilarious! I wish I could have gotten a movie of this bird desperately bobbing on the branch, just trying to get another bite. After a few days, he finally figured out that he could just hop inside.

I always thought Stellars Jays were migratory birds because I only saw them briefly in the spring and fall. Now that I have food out on a regular basis, they’ve stuck around. I felt kind of guilty, like I was throwing them off their migration schedule and they’d be stuck here all winter, huddling together with little hats and scarves on to stay warm. :-)  But my bird book says they don’t migrate…whew! Now they only scream at me when the feeders run low.