Stray antlers add salt to wound with tire damage

Associate Editor

(July 11, 2017) Over two decades of farming, Michael Mielke said he’s suffered eight to 10 tire punctures from stray deer antlers on his fields.
This year, the Easton, Md., farmer said he’s already dealt with three.
“It’s just been a rash,” he said.
Deer across the region have been a particular nuisance for farmers due to the amount of crop damage they can inflict.
But deer sheds — pointy, upturned antlers left on the ground — can also be an issue, albeit a smaller one.
Several farmers said late last month they’ve seen an increase in the number of deer shed punctures on farms across the Mid-Atlantic.
Of the three Mielke said he suffered this year, two ended up in tractor tires and one was in a combine tire.
He was able to repair the punctures and escaped having to replace any tires — a thought that he said makes him shudder when he considers the cost, which can exceed several thousand dollars.
“They can really do damage,” he said. “It gets very expensive. Some of the bigger combine tires or sprayers, you’re going to need more than that.”
Stray antlers took out a front and rear tire of Bob Lounsberry’s tractor as he mowed a hay field in Burlington County, N.J., recently.
He said he lost a day or two of work, and the repair cost him several hundred dollars.
He said his repairman told him it’s not a unique frustration in the county.
“I said, ‘How many does this make this year?’ And he said, ‘You’re the tenth call’,” Lounsberry said.
Some farmers attribute the problem to a growing regional deer population.
But is the number of deer rising? It depends, said Peter Jayne, associate director of game management at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Statewide, deer are on the decline, he said.
Maryland’s deer population peaked in 2002 at just fewer than 300,000.
By 2014, it fell to about 200,000, and it was about 215,000 last year, he said.
Hunters kill between 85,000 to 90,000 deer each hunting season, which has pushed the number of deer down.
“We dramatically liberalized our deer bag limits and somewhat increased the season dates,” Jayne said. “That increase was focused on what we call antlerless deer, meaning does.”
Maryland hunters take more antlerless deer per square mile than any other state or province in North America, he said.
But that decline isn’t occurring across the state.
The number of deer could be rising in areas where hunting is discouraged or prohibited, Jayne said.
Kesley Devers, office manager at Doug’s Tire Service in Ridgley, Md., said she’s seen a slight uptick in the number of farmers calling her for R1 ag tire repairs due to antlers.
She used to get about one call a year, she said. Now she’s average two or three per year. An average repair runs about $200, she said.
But it’s not clear what farmers can do to combat the problem, said Jarrod Miller, a University of Maryland Extension agent in Somerset County.
He suggested lowering the tire pressure, but he said it’s not an issue he comes across often.
“There’s probably a lot more antlers out there than there used to be,” he said.
Antlers are also more likely to stick around on farm fields, Jayne said. When they’re shed in the woods, mice and squirrels usually chew the antlers and other bones for calcium.
Mielke said he finds 30 to 40 deer sheds a year on his farm. He said he knows a farmer who had four tire punctures in one week.
Most farmers no longer till their land, and the weather over the last six months has been drier, making it harder for deer sheds to sink into the soil when a tractor tire crushes them.
He said he has so many antlers he gives them away. He’s even turned them into Christmas ornaments.
“We find ourselves having much more tire damage than we used to,” he said.