How to Start Deer Farming for Meat

deer farming

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.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Deer Farmer

1. Research Local Regulations for Deer Farming

Understanding the legal landscape is a cornerstone for setting up a deer farm. Within the United States, regulations regarding deer farming fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture as well as the state’s Game Commission.

Familiarizing yourself with these laws is essential to avoid any future legal difficulties. A critical hub for resources and guidelines is the North American Deer Farmers Association (NADEFA).

They offer comprehensive guides on everything from enclosure designs to ethical practices. Additionally, for nonnative species like fallow and sika deer, it’s essential to be aware that different, sometimes more stringent, regulations may be in place.

2. Learn about the Best Practices for Raising Healthy Deer

Running a deer farm isn’t simply a matter of keeping the animals contained; it’s an intricate operation that requires an understanding of the deer’s unique social structures.

Record-keeping is a non-negotiable task, involving close tracking of each animal’s health, age, and breeding status. In the wild, young male deer naturally congregate in bachelor groups. On a farm, this instinctual behavior has implications for how you’ll need to organize your herd.

Knowing that adult males, though initially cooperative, can become hostile during mating seasons informs how you’ll separate and manage them.

During winter months, or other times of scarce natural forage, you’ll need to have a backup feeding plan.

3. Gain Knowledge about Deer Farm Requirements

Infrastructure is a major factor to consider when setting up a deer farm. One of the key aspects involves creating efficient systems for food and water dispensation.

Conveniently, these systems can often be installed outside the pen, ensuring that during vulnerable periods like the mating season, there’s less need for human intervention within the enclosures.

Fencing is another critical element: not just any fence will do. It needs to be at least 8 feet in height with robust 5-inch diameter posts. Some farmers go the extra mile by wrapping wooden snow fences around the main fences, providing a visual deterrent.

In addition to these, a “squeeze chute” helps manage the deer for medical check-ups or before they’re sent off to the butcher.

4. Learn How to Breed Deer Populations Safely

In captive environments, safety becomes a paramount concern, especially during the breeding season. While doe deer have impressive conception rates even in the wild, artificial insemination is often the method of choice on deer farms.

This practice, though expensive at around $700 per procedure, offers a more controlled and safe breeding process. Alternatively, some farmers invest in a prime breeding buck, despite its hefty price tag of $5,000 or more.

Understanding the brief breeding window for does—usually only about 48 hours—is critical for planning.

Subsequent feeding schedules, particularly for males who can lose up to 25% of their body weight during the rut, are also vital.

deer farming

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.

  • Fencing – 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.
  • Breeding Stock – 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

Your farm will need to be adequately equipped to function smoothly. This includes machinery like tractors, ATVs or UTVs, and trailers specifically designed for transporting deer safely.

The layout of the farm is also essential. Pens will need to be designed to segregate deer by age and sex. A less obvious but equally important requirement is soil quality.

If you find that your land’s soil is deficient, it’s wise to conduct a soil test and then amend the ground to provide the nutrients your deer will need for grazing.

Special handling facilities, like the earlier mentioned “squeeze chutes,” are also part of essential infrastructure.

deer farming

7. Develop a Marketing Strategy to Attract Customers

Lastly, but by no means least, is the challenge of marketing your deer farm. It’s imperative to identify who you’ll be selling to, be it direct consumers, retail stores, or restaurants.

Crafting an effective marketing strategy involves more than just traditional advertising; in today’s digital age, a wide variety of farming apps can facilitate almost every aspect of farm management.

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.

8. Implementing a Health Monitoring and Veterinary Care Plan

Establish a regular health monitoring system for your herd to prevent and quickly address diseases. Schedule regular veterinary check-ups and vaccinations. Have a plan for dealing with common deer illnesses and injuries. Ensure your handling facilities are equipped for safe and efficient veterinary care.

9. Understanding and Implementing Ethical Breeding Practices

Learn about ethical breeding practices to maintain a healthy deer population. This includes understanding genetic diversity, avoiding inbreeding, and ensuring the well-being of both does and bucks during the breeding season. Stay informed about best practices in deer genetics to produce a strong and healthy herd.

10. Establishing a Sustainable Feeding Program

Develop a sustainable feeding program that aligns with the nutritional needs of deer. This includes a balance of natural forage, supplemental feeds, and minerals. Understand seasonal changes in deer dietary requirements and plan your feeding schedule accordingly.

11. Navigating the Processing and Distribution of Venison

Familiarize yourself with the regulations and best practices for processing venison. Build relationships with licensed meat processors or consider investing in your own processing facilities. Develop a strategy for marketing and distributing your venison, considering various channels like local markets, restaurants, or direct-to-consumer sales.

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

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.

Comparing Different Species of Deer for Farming

To help you make an informed choice, here is a comparison table that outlines key attributes of different deer species that are commonly farmed in the US:

SpeciesSizeEase of HandlingTypical CostsNative to the US?
White-Tailed DeerLargeModerate$$$Yes
Fallow and Sika DeerMediumEasy$$No
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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.

deer farming

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

Locating a qualified veterinarian who specializes in treating deer can be a challenging task, especially if your farm’s handling facilities aren’t up to par.  A deer-focused veterinarian will expect a certain level of infrastructure aimed at ensuring both human and animal safety.

It’s crucial to make sure that your facility includes specialized spaces for medical treatment and isolation, as well as effective systems to safely guide the deer into these areas.

Consult with the veterinarian on how to adapt your facilities to suit the medical needs of your herd, ensuring that you can provide a safe and efficient environment for routine check-ups and emergency situations alike.

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 is a significant contributor to agriculture, generating a staggering $7.9 billion in annual revenue in the United States alone.

When you break it down, the meat can be quite valuable, with white-tailed deer meat retailing for an average of $30 per pound and elk meat fetching even more at $45 per pound.

However, it’s crucial to consider the actual yield from each animal to get a realistic sense of profits. An average 100-pound doe, for example, could offer around 45 pounds of marketable meat.

This meat isn’t just steaks; it includes various cuts such as hamburger and tenderloin, which may have different market values.

Understanding these economics can guide you in setting your pricing and revenue expectations.

deer farming

How Much Land Do You Need for a Deer Farm?

When considering how much land you’ll need for a deer farm, the requirements are surprisingly modest. A single fenced acre can comfortably accommodate 2-3 adult white-tailed deer, making deer farming an attractive business proposition for those with limited land resources.

This efficiency in land use is why deer farming often tops the list of viable businesses to start on vacant land.

Nevertheless, the acreage needed could vary based on other factors like the availability of natural forage, the type of deer you are raising, and the need for additional facilities like birthing pens or isolation areas.

So, while a small plot may suffice, a thorough assessment of land use is indispensable for operational success

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Lisa Price Lisa Price is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 4 years. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in journalism from Shippensburg State College (Pennsylvania). She is also a freelance writer and previously worked as a newspaper circulation district manager and radio station commercial writer. In 2019, Lisa received the (Pennsylvania) Keystone Award.