I get questions about deer farming and starting a deer farm almost every day. Here are my answers to the most common questions.
Q: Why should I raise whitetail deer?
The whitetail is the most sought after big game animal in North America. As long as hunting remains a legal pastime there will be a demand for trophy animals. No other species of deer carries the special place in people’s hearts like the whitetail deer.
Q: How do I get a license to start a deer farm?
Every state has different rules so you will have to check with your local DNR or wildlife department. Here in Oklahoma our state is very friendly to alternate agriculture endeavors like deer farming. In Oklahoma the license is issued by our wildlife department and costs $49/year. Once you have your pen(s) built, and before buying any deer, your local game warden will come out to inspect and sign off on the license. But like I said, this varies so check with your state as to its requirements.
Q: How much does it cost to get a deer farm started?
I have been to farms that have invested over a million dollars in their operation and to others that have started with a few thousand. The startup cost depends on the goals of your operation. If you plan to be a full-time deer farmer in 3-5 years, the costs would be greater than for a hobbyist or a part-timer. Trying to come up with figures for every situation is difficult, but in my experience those who are making money in this business usually have invested around $25,000-$100,000 in their operations including fencing, facilities, and breeding stock. Don’t be afraid to start small and grow slowly over time, as it will take decades for current supply to catch up with demand.
Q: Should I start off with fawns or adult animals?
As in most businesses or farming operations, there is a big learning curve in raising whitetail deer. Whitetail deer are creatures of habit and like routine. Bringing in mature deer from several farms onto a new start up operation is like taking your kids out of their school and transferring them to a new school during the middle of the year. I believe that it is most effective to start with a group of bottle-started fawns and to finish out the bottle-feeding at your farm. In another analogy, most parents don’t start off by raising teen-agers.
Q: Why bottle-feed?
Here on our farm, every doe fawn born is pulled to be bottle-fed within 1-3 days following birth. Not only are bottle-fed deer easier to handle, medicate and artificially breed, they are to us more enjoyable and are a calming effect on the entire herd. On bottle-feeding buck fawns, we will usually pull those who are of superior genetics, or in case of twin bucks, may pull one to put less strain on the doe. Bottle-fed bucks can be dangerous in the rut. This should be understood and care taken to address this issue. It is also unwise to sell bottle-fed bucks to the hunting market. On the other hand it makes for quite an impression to potential clients to be able to go up to a buck during the velvet stages and have him eating out of their hands.
Q: To whom do you sell your deer?
Most of my deer are sold to other breeders or those getting started in the business. There is also a growing market of hunting preserves and ranches that are in desperate need of quality harvest animals. Since it takes much more time to grow out a big buck than to harvest it, this demand will not soon, if ever, be completely met.
Q: How do you advertise and sell your deer?
As in any business, marketing is the key to success. If no one knows what you are raising or selling, how can they contact you when interested? I find the Internet via my website (www.dskranch.com) to be the #1 sales tool that I have.
I also find it very beneficial to be involved in the industry by way of attending state and national association meetings and auctions such as the annual Top-30 breeder’s sale. Other advertising such as display ads in the Animal Finder’s Guide, the NADeFA magazine and the Texas Trophy Hunter magazine can be productive. Overall though, the Internet is a must in my opinion. Once you get known throughout the industry as having quality animals, you may find it hard to keep an inventory as has happened to me.
Q: Are there “how to” books available for raising whitetail deer?
I have not found any that are inclusive in all aspects of this industry. I have attended the “Beginning Deer Farming” seminar hosted by NADeFA as well as a class given by Dr. Harry Jacobson and found both to be of good help. Networking with other deer farmers at state and national meetings or on farm tours has also been beneficial. Part of my service, when deer are purchased from my farm, is to assist in any way I can to ensure your success. I have also made this service available in the form of a consulting service to those in need.
Q: What kind of diseases do deer get?
Whitetail deer for the most part are hardy animals with few health problems. Of course, to move animals across state lines they must be tested for TB/Bangs and now have to be monitored for Chronic Wasting Disease. For the most part, these 3 diseases are not found to be a problem with farmed deer. The main losses I have witnessed with whitetail deer come as a result of EHD, MCF or pneumonia. I have successfully treated pneumonia with drugs like Micotil or NuFlor. MCF or Malignant Cataral Fever usually is given to deer by sheep and goats in close proximity of the deer.
EHD or as it is commonly referred to “Blue Tongue” is spread to deer from small biting flies and usually occurs during the warmer months. EHD is mostly fatal to animals from the northern climates, in which this disease is not present, moved to the south. Having been exposed to EHD and surviving usually gives the affected animal immunity to this disease and a percentage of the immunity passed down to its offspring – thus given the term of “Southernly acclimated Northern Whitetails”.
Q: How are deer handled and transported?
With a few modifications deer can be transported safely in most stock trailers. The key is to make the transport vehicle as dark as possible to keep the deer calm. As to handling deer to give the medications or for testing prior to transport, the best system I have found is from Delclayna called the “Deerhandler.” More information on this system can be found at www.deerstore.com. This is one area I would not recommend going cheap as many a prized animal have been lost using inferior systems. Witnessing any system in operation with live animals prior to purchase is a must do.
Q: So why is darting so hard on whitetail deer?
Handling large numbers of whitetail deer via the darting or tranquilizing method is not only very costly, there are many avenues during the process to make errors and in turn costing animals. I have 3 different darting systems in my arsenal and find them important tools used wisely. Most problems with darting are as a result of poor shot placements, overheating of the animal (chasing it around the pen to dart it) or using the wrong dosage of drugs. Before purchasing any tranquilizing device I would strongly encourage attending the Safe Capture International’s class on Chemical Immobilization. This is also one area where consulting with a professional deer farmer is very helpful.
Q: What about visiting some deer farms in my area prior to starting?
This is a must do for anyone thinking of getting into the deer business. Most deer farmers welcome farm tours and not all deer farmers look at farm tours as sales presentations on their stock. Most serious farmers understand the need for new farmers entering the business and for those new farmers to be given information to become successful.
Q: What kind of genetics should I start with?
This industry is based on one thing – antler scores. You should considering purchasing the very best your budget will allow. Name recognition of the sire and of the dam’s sire is also very important when it comes time to go from buyer to seller. The top dollar goes to those genetics in which have proven inheritability to future generations. You want to look at your investment, as inventory having a resale value down the road so be very observant of market trends for genetic lines.
Q: What do you feed?
I feed a special sweet feed mix formulated by a friend of mine who spends a lot of time researching deer feed. Most farmers feed a pellet by Purina or Antler King and supplement with alfalfa hay.
Q: Is there an association to join?
I believe to be a successful deer farmer you must stay in tune with the industry. At the minimum you should be a member of any local or state association as well as the North American Deer Farmer’s Association. You can get information on NADeFA by visiting www.nadefa.org.
By David King