Not all Fraser fir growers contend with these problems, but where deer populations are high, they can eat young trees down to a pencil-sized stem. Damage can be so extensive that growers have abandoned fields of young trees. Hard-pressed growers will use a combination of selective hunting, deer repellents and food plots to divert deer from their trees.

“We initially looked into the effectiveness and feasibility of using different fencing and commercial repellents to protect trees and crops from deer. Both are successful, but are extremely expensive,” Owen explains. “When you take the commercial deer repellent that you find at your local hardware store and use it on a farmwide basis, you see growers budgeting as much for deer repellents as most of their other pesticides.”

Commercial deer repellents are so costly that Christmas tree growers use them at half-strength to be able to afford using them at all.

According to Owen, commercial deer repellents cost at least $18 per pound, while the dried blood or egg powder, which can be bought in bulk from agriculture suppliers, runs less than $2 per pound. When you consider that growers use 10 pounds per acre and make two or three applications over the fall and winter, the savings are significant.

“The threat of deer is very important to our local growers, since the impact of their browsing and horning can cost thousands of dollars in lost product and increased expense. And with the economy in the state it is, the growers can’t pass expenses associated with deer damage onto the consumer, because the wholesale market would not support it,” Owen says. “So, the deer have been, literally, eating into their profit. We hope that finding an inexpensive deer repellent alternative will not only help save their crop, but also help them to stay profitable.”

But before the home gardener runs to place orders for rancid egg powder, Owen offers some words of wisdom.

“Our growers  get these products in 50-pound bags or even 2,000-pound pallets, and have to mix the egg powder or dried blood into a solution to be sprayed. It’s not the prettiest process,” laughs Owen. “For the average homeowner, the pre-made commercial deer repellent should be more than adequate, provided you rotate repellents from time to time.”

North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association provided support for the research.