Four-wire electric fence system best control of deer access to food plots

By: Adam Russell, 903-834-6191, adam.russell@ag.tamu.edu

Contact: Billy Higginbotham, 903-834-6191, billy.higginbotham@ag.tamu.edu

OVERTON – Landowners have a few options to protect forage plots and gardens from browsing deer,  but the electric four-wire system appears to work best, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist.

Dr. Billy Higginbotham, AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist in Overton, said the system is the best and most cost-effective option for landowners looking to keep deer out of food plots and gardens.

Dr. James Kroll, emeritus director of the Institute for White-tailed Deer Management and Research at Stephen F. Austin University, created the four-wire electric fence design as a temporary barrier to control deer access to forage plots.

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A four-wire electric fence system protecting a cowpea plot at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Billy Higginbotham)

The technology has since been applied to protect high-value areas such as gardens as well, Higginbotham said. It has been field-tested for several years and was tested in Overton last summer.

The design allows landowners to limit access to small food plots that would otherwise be over-browsed by deer and at a much lower cost than an 8-foot-tall net wire fence, Higginbotham said. He said food plots as small as several acres of cowpeas can typically withstand browsing pressure but that forages need time, typically six weeks, to become well-established.

“We’ve been very pleased with the results, especially as we moved the fence to allow deer access to the forage,” Higginbotham said.

He advised using electric fence “tape” set 18 inches off the ground for the outside hot wire and twist it so small breezes will make it flutter. Then set white electric fence wire 12 inches and 24 inches above the ground 3 feet inside the outside hot wire, and again 3 feet inside the two hot wires, set another electric tape twisted to flutter in the breeze.

Six-foot t-posts with insulators are used for corner posts for the hot wire configuration, he said. Place white, if possible, electric fence posts every 25 feet between the t-posts. Additional t-posts may be needed every 100 feet on bigger food plots.

The configuration is only 6 feet wide and 24 inches off the ground but the three dimensional effect has proven successful at keeping deer out of cowpea stands.

Higginbotham used the design to control deer access to a quarter-acre plot of cowpeas at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton.

Four game cameras were placed to monitor the quarter-acre food plot and deer interactions with the fencing system, he said. There was only one breach of the fencing system during the summer field trial – a doe jumped inside the outside fence for about 30 seconds and then exited.

Higginbotham said the configuration is good for food plots because it can be moved to allow limited access to the food plot throughout the summer and leading into hunting season.

He said allowing food plots relief from browsing pressure could help landowners to keep deer hooked to summer forages all the way up to youth rifle season or archery season.

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The four-wire electric fence system allows landowners to control deer access to food plots and can restrict access to high value crops and home gardens. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Billy Higginbotham)

The success protecting food plots can also benefit other areas landowners who want to restrict deer access. Home gardens near deer habitat can be vulnerable to deer browsing, Higginbotham said.

The total cost to fence the quarter-acre plot was approximately $400, he said. However, cost would drop significantly on a per-acre basis as the size of the plots protected by the electric fence design increased in area.

“Right now is a good time for landowners to be planting their summer forage plots, like cowpeas, and this system does a fantastic job of protecting those plots when they’re starting and provides a way of controlling access as the landowner allows,” Higginbotham said. “However, it is important to have the fence in place before the cowpeas germinate.”

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