August 20, 2017

Hoping The Bucks Will Stop (Rubbing) Here At Wolgast Tree Farm

Like farmers everywhere, Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary has dealt with conflicts concerning white-tailed deer.  We’ve never had an issue with deer eating (browsing) our Christmas trees, but buck rubs are another matter.  A buck rub is created when a male deer uses his forehead and antlers to rub up and down the trunk of a tree which scrapes off the tree’s bark and branches and sometimes even breaks the tree in half.

This buck white-tailed deer was caught in the act of rubbing a Canaan fir tree on our farm with a motion and heat-detecting game camera.  A single buck can rub many trees and cause significant tree damage in the process.

This buck white-tailed deer was caught in the act of rubbing a Canaan fir tree on our farm with a motion and heat-detecting game camera. A single buck can rub many trees and cause significant tree damage in the process.

Bucks do this as part of the white-tailed deer breeding season (also called the rut) to communicate with other deer.  Other deer not only see the damage to the tree but they smell it.  Bucks have glands at the base of their antlers and near their eyes which produce their own unique scent.  This scent is left on the tree so that other deer know who’s handiwork it is.

Just what is a buck that rubs a tree trying to say?  Well, to the other male deer he is saying something like, “See what I did to this tree?  You better not mess with me or you’ll get the same thing.  Leave all the girl deer for me!”  And to the does he is saying something like, “Look what I did to this tree.  Aren’t I big and strong?  I’d be a great father to your fawns!”

The rut for white-tailed deer generally reaches its peak on November 10th here in New Jersey, but bucks rubs are among a variety of rut activities that start long before that.  In the space of about 20 seconds a single buck can rub out years of work that we’ve put into producing an individual Christmas tree.  One year we counted over 70 buck-rubbed Christmas trees.  That’s a lot of damage, especially for a small family-owned farm like ours so we use a variety of preventative measures to keep damage to a minimum.

To help keep bucks from rubbing our Christmas trees we spray each individual tree with a deer repellant.  It's very labor intensive, but seems to work pretty well - until it rains and gets washed off.  Then we have start all over again.

To help keep bucks from rubbing our Christmas trees we spray each individual tree with a deer repellant. It’s very labor intensive, but seems to work pretty well – until it rains and gets washed off. Then we have to start all over again.

One of the things we do is use backpack sprayers to spray deer repellant on our trees in September just before bucks typically start to rub.  The label on the repellent package says the formula is only supposed to keep deer from browsing the trees (which deer around our farm don’t seem to do), but we’ve found that it seems to keep bucks from rubbing trees as well.  Spraying each tree is a big effort, but we think its worth it so long as it works.  Problem is, when it rains the repellant gets washed off and we have to spray the trees all over again.  During some seasons we’ve had to re-spray our trees five times.  That can get pretty old.

This past summer we read about a new kind of repellant that is supposedly longer lasting (up to 6 months).  They are called “Whiff Bars” and they were developed by an orchardist to prevent deer browse damage to fruit trees.  They look like those small bars of soap that hotels put out for guests.  When we opened the box that they were shipped in the aroma smelled like your great aunt’s perfume.  I know if I were a deer I wouldn’t feel like nibbling on trees that had them, but here again, our problem is rubbing, not nibbling, so whether they’ll be effective for what we want we’ll have to see.   We think its at least worth a try.

Earlier this month Len went out and attached the bars to our most vulnerable trees (Canaan, Concolor and Nordmann firs, White Pines and Norway Spruce).

Earlier this month Len tied deer repellant "Whiff Bars" to our farm's trees that are most vulnerable to buck rubs.  The Whiff Bars are supposed to keep deer from browsing the trees, but we hope they keep buck from rubbing them as well.

Earlier this month Len tied deer repellant “Whiff Bars” to our farm’s trees that are most vulnerable to buck rubs. The Whiff Bars are supposed to keep deer from browsing the trees, but we hope they keep bucks from rubbing them as well.

They look like little Christmas ornaments and we’re sure they’ll be a conversation item when folks come out to the farm and wander the fields in search of their family tree come Christmas time.  Like the deer repellant we spray, we don’t smell anything when we walk near the trees with the bars, but deer have a sense of smell that is much more sensitive than ours so its probably very apparent to them.  At least we hope that’s the case!

We like having deer around here at Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary, but we aren’t so thrilled with buck rubs on our Christmas trees.  We hope that between spraying deer repellant and outfitting our Christmas trees with Whiff Bars that we’ll be able to make sure that the bucks will stop (rubbing) here.

Phillipsburg High School FFA Visits Central Jersey’s Wolgast Tree Farm

Members of Phillipsburg High School's FFA Chapter visited Wolgast Tree Farm last Saturday.

Members of the Phillipsburg High School FFA chapter (Future Farmers of America) traveled from their haunts in Warren County to visit central New Jersey’s Wolgast Tree Farm in Somerset last Saturday.  This was the  third year that Phillipsburg FFA has visited our farm to get trees they will use to make grave blankets, and we consider it one of the highlights of the year when they do.  They are enthusiastic, hard-working, and well-mannered kids, and they instill a lot of hope within us about the future and character of today’s young people.  That they have an interest in agriculture and the outdoors is even better!

Before they headed out to the fields to cut trees, the students got a short tour, “A Year in the Life of a

Len shows members of Phillipsburg High School FFA what bucks can do to Christmas trees with their antlers (make a "buck rub") and how we try to prevent the damage by spraying the trees with deer repellent. This didn't work as well as it might have this year because we had lots of rain that washed the repellent off.

 Christmas Tree Farmer.”  Len discussed how we plant seedlings, control weeds and insect pests, and shear Christmas trees, as well as prevent and correct damage to trees caused by male white-tailed deer.    The chapter was invited to return in the spring to get a more detailed tour that would cover how we use Integrated Pest Management (IMP) on our farm, why our farm has been certified as being “River-Friendly,” and how we’ve integrated wildlife management into our operation to enhance the kinds of wildlife that visit, while aiming to minimize wildlife-caused damage.

 After the tour, everyone rolled up their sleeves and set about to cut 25 Douglas firs, the greens from which the students will use to make grave blankets to sell as a fund-raiser. 

Phillipsburg High School FFA members hauling a Douglas fir out of the field.

It was a big job.  The trees were cut, hauled out of the fields, and the branches were removed from the trunks.  The branches were tied into small bundles, and loaded on to trucks and a trailer, and brought back to school.  What made the task especially demanding was that the trees were very big. 

Bundling Douglas fir greens that Phillipsburg High School FFA members will use to make grave blankets that they will sell as part of their annual fund raiser.

Some of the trees were close to 200 pounds each!  They had grown so large and heavy because some had double and triple trunks and weren’t suitable to be Christmas trees so they kept growing over the years. Rather than throw the trees away, they are used in other ways.  The greens from these trees are beautiful, and we have been using them to make  grave blankets and wreaths on our farm, and marketing them for the same purpose to others, like Phillipsburg FFA.

The crew of the Phillipsburg FFA bundling & loading Douglas fir greens from Wolgast Tree Farm in Somerset, NJ.

Despite being physically demanding, it was a fun day.  The students have said their visit to our farm is among their most favorite activities of the year.  From our end, we appreciate  their interest in our trees, but even more we enjoy sharing our interest in agriculture and the outdoors with others, and the opportunity to see young, industrious people in action.  It’s always a delight to have Phillipsburg High School FFA Chapter visit Wolgast Tree Farm!

The Velvet At Wolgast Tree Farm

The largest mammals that are regularly seen here at Wolgast Tree Farm are White-tailed deer.  At this time of year, virtually all of the male deer that we see (called bucks) that are at least a year of age are growing antlers.

Buck in Velvet by Norway Spruce

Unlike horns, which are permanent features of an animal’s head (like on a sheep) and are made of dead tissue just like our hair and fingernails,  antlers grow each year from a special place at the base of the deer’s skull called a pedicle, and are eventually cast off in late winter, and then regrow later in the springWhile they are growing, antlers are living tissue (true bone) covered with a special skin called velvet.  Velvet has both nerves and blood vessels that supply the growing antlers with nutrients and oxygen.  It is called velvet because it is covered with numerous fine hairs that give the skin a velvet-like feel.

 When the antlers become fully developed, the velvet dies and is rubbed off by the buck on to surrounding vegetation.  This usually happens sometime in early September before the fall equinox.

Right now though, they are growing.  Just how big they’ll get depends on the interaction of at least three factors: the buck’s age, genetics and access to nutrition.  (For the record, you can’t tell how old a deer is by counting the number of points on its antlers.  Instead, wildlife biologists will examine their teeth to determine a deer’s age).

Late Summer Buck in Velvet at Wolgast Tree Farm.

We’ve enjoyed watching the antler development on some of the deer we’ve seen around the area, even though the antlers can be used by bucks to cause problems with our trees later in the fall.   More on that in the future.

Regardless, humankind has had a fascination with antlers for eons and then some, and we are no exception here at Wolgast Tree Farm.