Deer can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s so lovely to see a doe and fawn early on a Sunday morning, standing in the mist, nibbling on your garden. And that’s the problem. They can eat through a garden in no time.
Whether you love or hate deer, or have a more complicated relationship with them, there is one important question to answer: Can you use deer manure in gardens?
Fertilizing with Deer Manure
Using manure as a fertilizer is not a new practice. People long ago discovered that manure is full of nutrients. Deer droppings on plants or on your grass may provide some additional nutrients, depending on what those deer have eaten.
In the wild, the deer diet is pretty limited, meaning their droppings are not very nutrient-rich. But suburban deer and those feeding around farms may have more nutrients to offer in their waste.
Just letting droppings sit on your lawn may provide some nourishment, but it is hardly enough to replace a robust fertilizing program. To really get the benefits of the extra nutrients, you would need to collect piles of deer droppings and spread them more evenly around your lawn and in beds.
Safety Issues of Deer Poop in the Garden
Any type of manure that is raw poses a risk of contaminating crops with pathogens. You can potentially get sick from this kind of fertilizing. Those at highest risk are young children and the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women.
The recommendation from the National Organic Program is to allow 90 days from the time of application of a raw manure fertilizer to the harvest of any crop that doesn’t touch the soil. For crops that do touch the soil, the recommendation is 120 days.
For these safety reasons, you may want to reconsider using deer droppings as fertilizer in a vegetable garden. Or, if you do want to make use of it, run it through a hot composting system first. It needs to hit 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) for at least five days and be composted for 40 days or longer in total to kill any pathogens.
If you do choose to handle deer droppings to use in your lawn or beds, always wear gloves. Wash and disinfect all tools you use to handle it, and wash your hands thoroughly when finished.