Deer meat is a type of venison. Venison comes from the Latin “Venari,” which means to hunt. The term Venison also covers elk, reindeer, sika and fallow deer, all species of farmed deer. But the most common species of domesticated deer raised on a deer farm is the white-tailed deer.
Why a Deer Farm?
Domesticated deer farming is a growing business in rural America; in fact, one of its fastest-growing industries involves livestock. That’s because venison is high in protein and lean meat, which is low in fat.
Are you interested in wondering how to start farming with no money? In other words, you don’t have the dough to raise does, or the cash to raise bucks?
The USDA has various loan programs designed to help new deer farmers get a start.
What Species of Deer are Farmed in the US?
There are four main species of deer used as farm animals or livestock in the US.
Fallow Deer and Sika Deer
Sika and Fallow deer are popular choices because of their size and beauty. Like the sika, they are smaller than their whitetail cousins and easier to handle and house. They are also nonnative animals in the US, which means they don’t live in the wild.
White-tailed deer live in the wild throughout the US and are also the most common type of deer used as livestock on a deer farm. Raising any species on a deer farm is challenging, and the larger species even more so in terms of handling, housing and fencing.
Raising elk is challenging due to its size. They are powerful and agile and require as much food as cattle. In the wild, they are herd animals, and at all ages, strive to get over or through a fence to join the other animals.
Pros of Deer Farming
- Fast to get to maturity
- Can reproduce for up to 20 years of age
- Have side uses, such as the sale of antlers, antler velvet and hides
- Often have two or more young
- Cheaper to feed because they requires less fodder than traditional livestock such as cattle
Cons of Deer Farming
- Fencing is expensive
- Raising deer for meat is a highly regulated industy
- Public negativity – an animal lover may view a deer as a pet, and not an animal that may be good to eat.
Deer Diseases Farmers Should Know
There are three main diseases that can affect farmed domestic deer:
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an ugly one. It’s a neurological malady that causes muscle wasting and death. It can affect animals at any age. It’s thought to be spread via saliva, such as through shared feed areas. There is no vaccine or cure.
Tuberculosis is also a killer disease. It can spread between animals within the deer herd and also between deer and cattle. An infected bovine can then affect other animals on its farm.
Brucellosis is not common in most deer species, although it is common in Elk. It can spread in utero from the elk cow to its calf. Although there is a brucellosis vaccine for cattle, it has not been approved for use in deer herds.
Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Deer Farmer
1. Research Local Regulations for Deer Farming
Deer are regulated in each state by its Department of Agriculture and by its Game Commission. An excellent source of information about raising deer is the North American Deer Farmers Association or NADETA.
Since fallow and sika deer are nonnative, regulations regarding them may differ.
2. Learn about the Best Practices for Raising Healthy Deer
Of course, the farm owner must maintain herd records. Because of the deer’s social structure, farms are organized in particular ways.
For example, in the wild male young create a bachelor group and travel together. Although the adult males form a cooperative group, when mating season comes, they will turn on each other and fight – causing injury and even death.
Most deer farms are organized with the animals kept in a rotating pen system and a rotational grazing system. Fawns and adults are kept in same sex groups. Young males and females are raised to harvest size, while some females may be kept as breeders.
In times of inclement weather and seasonally (winter months) you will need to supplement feed to make sure deer are getting maximum nutrition. Deer prefer natural forage, but it is often of poor quality in colder months, and deer will need extra feed.
3. Gain Knowledge about Deer Farm Requirements
Setting up food and water dispensation, which can be accomplished outside the pen, is important. During the mating season, the farmer can care for the animals without entering pens.
Fencing must be at least 8 feet high with sturdy posts of at least 5-inch diameter. Farmers often wrap wooden snow fences around the fencing to create a visual barrier, both from people and from other deer (deer on the farm and wild deer).
You’ll need a “squeeze chute,” which is a system of runways that progressively narrow. The squeeze chutes capture deer from one herd headed to the butcher or needs to be seen by a veterinarian.
Although deer are hardy, they need access to shelter. Three-sided “run-in” sheds are commonly used.
4. Learn How to Breed Deer Populations Safely
Doe deer have good conception rates, even when ranging free. In captive populations, most farmers turn to artificial insemination during the breeding season.
That’s because they are focusing on personal safety. During rut season, those cute fawns that the farmer bottle-fed like a pet are now adult males capable of killing a human. Currently, the cost for each AI is about $700.
Some farmers let a buck visit the females when ready to breed. It’s an evolving math problem – a prime breeder buck may cost $5,000 or more, but AI is expensive. An adult doe is only prime for breeding for about 48 hours. Depending on how many does you have, you may need several bucks to handle the duties when the does are in prime time.
Post-breeding season feeding is extremely important, especially for the bucks. Even captive bucks have no interest in feeding during the rut, and can lose 25% of their body weight.
5. Create a Business Plan and Budget for Your Deer Farm
As you plan how to start a farm, consider your main costs. Two of the biggest expenses for the farm are fencing and breeding stock.
The current price for a 300-foot roll of 8-foot fencing is about $400. Posts for the fence are $10 and need to be placed every ten feet, gates are about $200. Many farmers also use strands of electric wire on the top and bottom of the fence, to deter predators.
On one fenced acre, you can hold 2-3 adult whitetails or 1-2 elk. You can expect to pay a minimum of $1500 for a weaned doe.
6. Acquire the Necessary Land, Facilities, and Equipment
You’ll also need farm equipment such as a tractor, an ATV or UTV, a transport trailer, water tanks and the correct number of pens so that different ages and sexes of deer remain separate.
If you don’t have a good pasture, get a soil sample and take steps to improve the natural nutrients from the ground level.
You’ll need handling facilities such as a squeeze chute to move animals from one area to another.
7. Develop a Marketing Strategy to Attract Customers
This is an important step for any privately owned business. Who is your customer? The private consumer, retail stores, restaurants?
Search the internet – there’s a farm app for almost everything involved in farming. You’ll find apps for equipment repair, chicken farming, or even learning how to start a goat farm.
Other Types of Deer Farms – The Grand Canyon Deer Farm
The Grand Canyon Deer Farm has long been a mainstay of old Route 66. The fun place is located in Williams, Arizona.
On the 10-acre Grand Canyon Deer Farm, visitors can touch and feed all the animals in this absolute animal wonderland. During your visit, you can view wallabies, llamas, bison, deer, and more, a truly unique experience.
Finding a Veterinarian
A veterinarian may be hard to find if you don’t have good handling facilities. A deer-oriented veterinarian will require working facilities that are set up with safety a priority – for the animals and the people.
What are Some Good Programs for Deer Farm Startups?
Colleges and Universities – Many throughout the US focus entirely on white-tailed deer production. Some of the most notable are offered at Penn State University, West Virginia University, and Miami University in Ohio.
The Zoo Keeper Program offers various programs, and you can focus on ungulates (hoofed animals).
The Deer Farm Start-Up Program – is offered through the North American Deer Farmers Association.
How Profitable is Deer Farming?
Deer farming generates $7.9 billion annually in the US. On average, whitetailed deer meat costs about $30 per pound, while elk meat costs about $45 per pound.
The average 100-pound doe may yield about 45 pounds of meat (a combination of hamburger, tenderloin, steaks).
How Much Land Do You Need for a Deer Farm?
You need a fenced acre for 2-3 adult whitetailed deer. This is why deer farming can be a top vacant land business idea.
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