We are deer farmers! But we are also Americans and Canadians. We bled and spit the dust and stench of September 11 from both sides of our common border. And we cannot conceive of the act. As other towers dropped, steel and flesh became one. And we now reflect. We try to reflect during Christmas at a level that we can understand.
We are just people. Most of us farm whitetail deer! And as farmers we also are teachers, lawyers, doctors, laborers and perhaps candlestick makers. We raise deer for money. But many of us would raise deer if there were not profit to be had at all. Certainly, we would raise less deer, and there would be less of us. But the fascination would remain. And it will remain.
The “why” is not all about money
Some of us do “our thing” because… well, because there are many reasons. Most of all, we enjoy it. There are special times in the deer pasture. In the soon-to-arrive northern winters there are opportunities to do what others would not understand. There are occasions to walk among our animals on those really dreadful days of winter when nature strikes with moist fog and muddy earth that smears beneath our boots. But the animals do not truly seem to mind. They tolerate us. Sometimes – during the worst of times – they have died in our arms, or at least at our feet.
As a deer farmer, I have seen a grown man give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a doe who took a dart that found a wrong spot to split the hide. But I’ve also been blessed to spend one June afternoon observing another doe give birth. She chose a portion of her wooded pasture within six feet of a building she was near daily. She thought she was isolated from others, but did not know about the full-length window. I had the opportunity to literally sit in my mother-in-law’s home and watch that entire afternoon as she presented twin fawns to a new world. Certainly it is a renewing process of life, but it also gives meaning to life and is an experience few get to see very close up and personally. Not from an easy chair in a living room anyway!. The experience was magical! It renews the earth and it renewed my soul.
From the first time as a kid that I helped a beloved great-uncle “pull” a Holstein calf in the pasture a mile from the farmhouse, to many opportunities to observe “first arrivals” in the horse barns, the gift of observing life starting again has always renewed me. It is because of those experiences that I know for sure that there is a God! There must be a God!
“HE” sent whitetails
Sometimes the medium is the message. When Marshall McLuhan first wrote of his concept, he may not have known how literally he could be interpreted. Not long ago, my wife suffered a life-threatening health problem. Her body deteriorated for about two years. Several surgeons diagnosed her condition as fatal. But she would not give in! Instead she fought for her life, planned to live, and said they were wrong. But realistically time was running out. One day, before surgery, we cried and together repeated Psalm 23 from memory in the middle of the sleepless night.
When dawn came, I found myself standing in our backyard, and saw something I will never forget. About 100 yards away and at the foot of a huge tree stood two fawns watching me from the high ground, which was very much “open and unfenced.” I believe they were waiting for me. They stood motionless, then moved only a few feet before starting a playful dance that could have taken not more than a 10- by-10 foot area. I watched for maybe 20 seconds, but it seemed like a lifetime.
Then I noticed, in the shoulder-high cover near them, a full-grown doe who seemed to be watching both her babies and me. The doe stood motionless. I saw (and I mean I saw) a whimsical, human-like expression on that animal’s face. When her message was complete she withdrew into the bushes by backing away, but seemingly never moving her eyes or changing that expression. The two fawns played, stopped without seeing me and withdrew. None of the three were seen here before – or ever since.
I stood and wept quietly, asking the Lord if it was truly “His” message. Yet I knew it was. There were two fawns. Two. My wife experienced a successful medical procedure that saved her life. Several days later I told my recovering wife about another of God’s message. He sent a whitetail doe – with two symbolic fawns – to reassure me of His plan. There were two fawns.
Returning to the deer pens
The inevitability of our own mortality on this earth is reason enough to treasure the opportunities we have as deer farmers. Most of us have come to understand that we are like most other people. But we are also profoundly individualistic. We do things that others perhaps would not choose to do. We could raise cattle or sheep, or we could get a job in a factory or clinic or perhaps a bank. Most of us do something else too. But we love the “specialness” of deer farming. Some are superior producers. Others like the sales and marketing aspects.
Many of us do battle with those who would, through regulatory efforts, attempt to limit our precious American freedoms to use our land as we see fit. We cooperate with state and federal legislators across this nation when “anti-game” farming interests act against us. And we learn again the need to be legislatively active, especially when there is no apparent “threat.” We participate because we understand that some would prevent all Americans from eating steak or venison. And should we should temporarily forget this lesson, we will be reminded.
Divide this man in thirds
But as for my own mortality, this deer farmer, now over 60, has made some decisions about his future. When I go, I will not leave the deer pasture. Instead my family knows of my belief in cremation and what my wishes are from there. My remains will be divided in thirds. One portion will remain with the most loving woman I have ever known. And she will do with me as she pleases – for heck, she has for decades anyway! Another equal portion will be scattered on the earth in the same graveyard where my parents rest and we will – because I have purchased the plots there by Mom and Dad – be shaded by the large oak tree that has stood for all of my memory. And that third portion will be given to my deer farming partner and his family, who now own the farm where I pulled that first Holstein calf. And they will deliver me back to the earth, over the acres where Holsteins once walked and where the whitetails have returned, but this time as farmed animals.
My wife and I have one foot in city life and another in the country. She knows the gleam in people’s eyes who are “deer nuts” and she has come to understand it. She knows that when the subject comes up at a business reception or gathering of friends that, “there he goes again!” And much of our time is devoted to “talking deer.” In the process, we’ve helped lots of new deer farmers over the years. Some are city people. Some are country folks who find a new joy in studying, producing and marketing what are one of God’s most intriguing creatures. We – most of us who love to live as near the heart of this industry as possible – are deer farmers. And that’s a special blessing for this holiday season.
Our livestock sales don’t always cover the cost of fence and feed. But most of the time, both now and in the future, I’m guessing the bounty we’ve experienced will continue in some form. For me it’s been a joy of nearly twenty years, and perhaps, it will be another twenty before they put this man – quite literally – out to pasture. May it also be for you and yours!
Source: Norma & Jim Stoltz own Stoltz Whitetails, Inc., located west of St. Louis, Missouri, USA. They are active members of the North American Deer Farmers Association (NADeFA) where they have served since 1986 in roles including teaching, fund raising and two terms as a director.