How to start a Deer Farm

Deer Farming 101

Deer farming is quickly becoming an industry that is worth turning your attention to. Where to start? This will enlighten you with information and resources about beginning a deer farm!

Whitetail deer are a passion to most of us, and to some of us, raising them is also our job. This is an industry to consider. Whether you raise these wonderful animals for the pure pleasure of having them around to enjoy as a hobby, or raising them for the challenge of producing that first 200” buck on your farm, it is an adventure. Never think that you know all you need to know. You will learn something new about these magnificent animals on a daily basis. They are full of surprises!

Who farms deer?

Deer farming is not just for men! You would be surprised how many women take an active role in deer farming. They are involved in every aspect and take it seriously. You think the men can talk up a storm about deer, just get one of these gals going and you’re in for a treat! And let’s not forget the kids! They come in real handy when it’s time to feed the fawns! Deer farming can be a bonding experience for the whole family.

What type of market is there in this industry?

  • Breeders
  • Hunting Ranches
  • Sales to other farms for genetic enhancements
  • Semen
  • Meat and Food
  • Antlers
  • Urine

How much land do I need to start and how high must the fence be?

Currently, a half an acre is the minimum allowed, and the fence needs to be 8 feet high. If starting out small and your deer are tame, this will work just fine. If you choose not to have tame deer, you should be thinking about a larger pen. Deer that are not tame need their “space”. They do not like to be crowded. A minimum of 80 contiguous acres is required to operate a hunting preserve.

Who regulates deer farms?

Currently, all whitetail farms are regulated by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regulates the fencing.

What do I feed the deer?

Some farms have their own “recipes” and some feed corn. Straight corn is not recommended however, as it may cause health problems. Deer need fiber, which they get from browsing, so they need hay if browse is unavailable. There are numerous feed distributors out there who sell feed that is pre-mixed and bagged.

It’s all up to you, and it’s part of the trial and error process. Whatever works! Oh, and deer love treats! On a side note, deer are unlike cattle and horses that eat consistently. A whitetail deer’s metabolism changes as winter comes and the eating patterns slow down quite a bit for the season. This is a nice break for the pocketbook if you have big herd!

What about CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease)?

Most deer farms are on a monitoring program through DATCP. When an animal over 16 months of age dies or is harvested, it is tested for CWD. Between the years 2002 and 2008, 20,623 CWD samples were taken from farm-raised cervids in the state of Wisconsin. Of those 20,623 samples, .09% had tested positive by Feb 07 2008. Some of the positives have been linked back to the wild herd. Our industry continues to rack up numbers proving that deer farms are not the problem. As of 2008, 499 herds were enrolled in the monitoring program (info from the DNR website). To date, it has not been proven where CWD came from and it very well may never be. There is a strong feeling by many that CWD has always been present in the wild, it is just now being found. Remember, facts are what you need to listen for, not hearsay or speculation.

What’s the best thing about deer farming?

If you asked deer farmers what their favorite time of the year would be, you would get mixed answers. For some of them, it would be the anticipation of the birth of the fawns. No one can resist a newborn fawn with its spotted coat and big eyes. Another favorite time of the year would no doubt be watching the bucks’ antlers grow, trying to figure out which one will be the “monster”!

Protecting the farm and farmland…

It may be a well-worn refrain, but the family farm remains an endangered species. Across the United States two acres of farmland are lost to development every minute. In Wisconsin alone, over 550,000 acres of farmland were lost between the 2002 and the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture. By diversifying their practices, farmers adding cervids to their operations can blunt the highs and lows associated with farming to some extent. Cervid farming also helps protect open lands that might not be suitable for other farming purposes and which would in some cases be sold and developed, further protecting the state’s natural resources. The average cervid operation in Wisconsin protects 69 acres of farmland.