I often get asked by people interested in deer farming how the industry is doing, and what the future looks like. Unfortunately, my crystal ball is not much better than anyone else’s. My standard recommendation is to do a business plan that looks at the industry statistics and crunch some numbers to assess the potentials/risks.
Another thing I like to do is look at where we have come from. Sometimes our glimpse of the future can be predicted from our past. With that rationale in mind, two good sets of deer industry statistics became available to me – one from the United Kingdom, and one from Canada.
In the United Kingdom, the national deer herd numbers are about 36,000. This is down substantially from a peak of 53,000 in 1992. The herd size has remained relatively stable since 1995. Over 95% of Scottish deer are red, while in England, 77% are red, 22% are fallow and 1% are other. Deer farming is not a significant (nor apparently growing) part of the agricultural industry in the UK. Deer represent less than 0.06% of the UK’s farmed livestock.
Agriculture in general is declining in the United Kingdom. Cattle numbers fell 2.5% between 1999 and 2000; pig numbers fell by 11%, sheep were down by 5% and total labour on farms was reduced by 25,000, a 5% reduction. These numbers are all BEFORE the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease which will result in additional declines. (Source: Journal of the British Deer Farmers Association, No 65, Spring 2001, p23).
In Canada, there are 1,931 licensed game farms with Saskatchewan having 560 and Alberta with 527. These game farms raise a total of 118,491 cervidae. The most common species is elk/wapiti with 67,254 animals (57%), with fallow deer next at 17,289 (15%), white-tailed at 17,176 (14%) and red deer at 15,605 (13%). Mule deer (525) and reindeer (642) make up the remaining 1%.
Looking at the numbers of deer over time, fallow deer numbers are down significantly from their high of 41,250 in 1994 (17,289 now). Red deer are also down slightly from their high of 16,000 in 1997.
White-tailed deer have increased from 3,889 in 1992 to 17,176 in 2000, an average annual increase of 43%. (They will likely surpass fallow deer this year). There was a slight decline between 1999 and 2000 that was due to a reduction of about 3,500 animals in the province of Quebec. The reason for this decline is unknown. The white-tailed deer numbers in Alberta and Saskatchewan have shown consistent growth rates.
Farmed elk have increased from 4,610 in 1990 to 67,254 in 2000. Overall, rates of growth in animals are about 20% per year. Ontario farmed elk dropped from 5,500 in 1998 to 2,600 in 2000. The other provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec) showed increases.
The two native species in Canada – elk and white-tailed deer – seem to be growing. However, both have experienced significant drops in prices for breeding stock due to tightening markets. If these segments continue to grow as in the past, the key to success will be to develop expanded markets for velvet and venison. Without these new and expanded markets, the industry will not remain profitable or sustainable.
Special thanks to Raymond Nixdorf, of Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food for compiling and sharing these Canadian statistics.