April 1, 2013

Deer-feeding family has following

Harriet and Basil Powers have been feeding deer that gather in their yard for more than 50 years.

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

COPLIN PLANTATION - Every day by 1 p.m., deer start gathering by the dozen in Harriet and Basil Powers' front yard.

click image to enlarge

Basil Powers spreads corn from his tractor for the deer that show up daily at his farm in Coplin Plantation.

David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Almost any time of day, one or two are there. They're behind the barn or maybe licking peanut butter off the birdfeeders by the porch.

As 3:30 p.m. approaches, more begin to gather. They've learned that every day at that time, Basil Powers will feed all that come. That's nearly 100 that have arrived, expecting corn.

Harriet, 80, and Basil, 81, have been feeding deer for more than 50 years, ever since they moved into the farmhouse on Kennebago Drive.

Harriet's parents lived in the house before them and were the first generation to feed the deer.

Harriet said her mother told her she started feeding the deer after accidentally leaving food that had been intended for the family's horses.

Her mother said she had taken the horses to a nearby brook for a drink and sprinkled grain on the ground for them. A day later, she noticed deer tracks at the watering spot and began the family tradition. She even added apples to a clothesline for the deer.

Her parents began to feed the deer regularly in the 1940s, and when she and Basil moved back into the family home, they took over the feeding.

The horses are gone now, but the corn is still poured out by the bucket. They had distributed each 5-gallon bucketload by hand until their son made a bright orange bucket that attaches to the back of Basil's tractor and dumps the corn.

The dozen deer that her parents fed grew to 200 at one point.

"I guess they went out and started having babies," Basil said.

The number that turns out each afternoon has waxed and waned over the decades, but Basil thinks 80 to 100 deer come to eat now.

Harriet said this winter, with the help of donations from visitors, they bought eight tons of corn at $300 per ton. When they bought the feed from a supplier in Canada, the company named a variety after them called "Basil's deer feed," and people would come to the store and ask for "Basil's," Harriet said.

However, the cost, along with Basil's health, are catching up with them. He walks with crutches because of a failing hip, which is compounded by other health problems.

Basil said because of the demands, he and his wife have said this year, like many years before, will be their last year, but then they always continue anyway.

While pain from Basil's health problems brings him down, his wife said he brightens up when it's time to feed.

One recent afternoon, as he pulled out of the large storage trailer they use to store deer feed, he yelled over the noise of the tractor, "Ring the bell!"

His wife pulled a rope attached to a large dinner bell hanging on the front of the barn.

Most of the 80 deer that showed up were already in the open, but a handful leaped out of the woods and into their yard from different directions when they heard the clanging.

Basil feeds two groups of deer -- one that gathers in the front yard and a group that gathers behind the barn. He said he feeds them separately to prevent the fighting that would occur if he were to make them share food in one spot.

"They're like the Hatfields and McCoys," he said, referring to the famous feuding families of 19th century Appalachia.

Harriet said the deer leave behind droppings and tear up the yard with their tracks, "but we'll be one of the first people in town to have a green lawn."

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife discourages people from feeding deer, but the couple continues to do it, anyway.

They said the department has never told them to stop feeding the deer, although they know the agency discourages it.

Doug Rafferty, a department spokesman, said no rule prohibits feeding deer, but his department has health and safety concerns about drawing a large gathering of deer by feeding them.

He said disease can spread quickly when that many deer are brought together, and they also may cause a traffic accident.

"We understand how much people love to see the deer, but you have to remember that they're wild animals, and they know how to handle themselves without help from people feeding them," he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

kschroeder@mainetoday.com

 

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