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Deer Farming



     Deer farming has been around for many years.  The deer are not only raised for their meat, but also for their antlers.  The Fallow deer is the most commonly raised species.  Elk and deer antlers are sold as an aphrodisiac in the Far East or Pacific Rim countries.  The meat of deer contains only 5% fat and has 1/6th the cholesterol of beef.  To farm deer requires a special game permit from the state, and special facilities such as 8′ tall fences to keep the deer confined.  There are fences commercially available for raising deer or elk.  The use of antibiotics and drugs requires a withdrawal times similar to cattle and other food producing animals.  There are official tags and other requirements to be considered before you start deer farming.  The red deer (European elk) is illegal to keep in our state; even if confined.

     The most common problem we see in cervids is the overfeeding of grain.  Cervids, such as deer and elk, do not need grain.  Their digestive systems are not used to the highly fermentable grains, thus enterotoxemia deaths are seen if only 1# of grain is fed.  The larger, aggressive deer may engorge on the grain you think you are feeding to the does and smaller bucks.  We advise alfalfa pellets or combination type pellets if you wish to supplement their hay diet.  Clostridial vaccines are available to prevent the enterotoxemia, yet may not be indicated unless you do feed grain.  Gastric ulcers and related infections of the body and liver are also due to the feeding of grain even in low levels.  The general care and feeding of deer is very similar to other livestock which are fed mostly forages and very little grain.  We have many other handouts available. 

     Raising deer commercially requires space.  In nature the dominant males will fight the younger bucks.  When you confine animals with antlers (or horns) you will have more problems with the overall health of the herd.

     The rut, or breeding period, is in the fall.  The buck will grunt when in rut, and may loose up to 1/3 of his weight during the breeding season.  The rut peaks in the latter part of October.  Most of the herd should become pregnant with the first two heat cycles, although the rut can last 2-3 months.  A calf is born 234 days later, usually in May and June.  85% of the does should be pregnant.  RECORD KEEPING IS ESSENTIAL IN ANY COMMERCIAL OPERATION.  Once a doe weighs over 70# (16 months of age), she should cycle every 21-25 days if the photoperiod is right (in the fall).  A mature buck, over 4 years of age, can service up to 40 does.  A two year old buck should be started with a harem of 15 does.  Some people pair up a yearling buck with 10 does; but we feel you should wait.

     The fawns can be weaned in the fall, before the rut season.  Tagging of the deer for identification is advised, either within the first few days of birth or when weaning.  You can place different colored tags in the ear for males or female identification OR if you tag one side (right) for the male and left for the does you can visually identify the sexes when separating.  These tags should be numbered.  Separate the fawns from their mothers with 2 or more fences; preferably out of visual sight range.        

     We do advise giving the clostridial and lepto vaccines when you cut the velvet of the deer.  When the does are caught, we also advise vaccinations yearly.  Velvet is the term used to describe antlers that are not dried and mature yet.  A group fecal of the herd should be considered periodically.  Tetanus, pasteurella, E. coli, corneybacterium, salmonella and other “cattle-type” vaccines may be indicated in some herds.  Tuberculosis and brucellosis testing is required in our state every 1-3 years, depending upon the accreditation of the herd.  Deworming once a year (or more) may be needed, along with lice or tick treatment if indicated.

     It is best to pasture the deer and rotate pastures every few weeks to 2 months; depending upon the facility.  Hay should be fed in the winter, at a rate of 1.5-3% (maximum) of their body weight.  Fat deer do not reproduce very well, and are unhealthier.  A mineralized salt block, shelter from the elements and fresh water should always be available.  We are in a marginal copper deficiency area, which indicates copper should be supplemented in the diet and/or yearly boluses are available.

     When working with deer, alley catch pens, overhead structures (which catch the antlers) and other items need to be considered.  Cattle squeeze chutes are not adequate for cervids, and may do more harm than good.  A dark area, squeeze panels or a special chute, etc. can be discussed when you plan your facility or expansion.

     In our area we are unfortunate to have a disease called Chronic Wasting Disease of Cervids (deer and elk).  This is a neurological disease which takes years to affect the animal; the deer just waste away.  An autopsy reveals there is little to no body fat, even though the patient had adequate food.  The only test available utilizes a sample of the brain, the patient must be dead.  Because of this disease our wild deer cannot be transported out of this area, even to another area in the state.  All cervids which die in captivity should be tested for this disease.

     We do not recommend that deer and sheep be housed together.  Malignant Catarrhal Fever (MCF) is a herpes virus that affects cattle, buffalo, deer and antelope.  Only a few of the animals within a herd will be affected.  The Sika, Pere David’s and white-tail deer are more susceptible than the red deer and elk species.  Sheep can be sub-clinical carriers of this disease. 

     White-tailed deer can also carry the Parelaphostrongylus a parasite that can affect other livestock; pastures with deer previously on it cannot house llamas and other cervids (black-tailed deer, caribou, mule deer).  Other species that can obtain neurological signs of aberrant migration of the P. tenuis parasite are bison, fallow deer, goats, moose, red deer, sheep and other species.  A group/herd fecal sample of all animal species is recommended every year or so.    

     Deer fawns need lamb milk replacer if orphaned.  Elk can do fine with goat milk, but deer will fade away when placed on this type of formula.  For temporary use you may add 10% cream to 90% goat or cow’s milk to supplement a fawn.  Undiluted, canned evaporated milk can also be used as a milk replacer.  Some goats can be used for nurse mothers for orphan deer, but first test the goat’s milk and purchase the ones only with the highest percentage of milk fat.  The goats should also be tested for brucellosis, Johne’s disease, tuberculosis and CAE; the later not being contagious to cervids.

     If you have a healthy deer that is to be slaughtered we recommend that you call us first.  Saving plasma or serum from this deer may save the life of a newborn which has not ingested colostrum.  We can process this serum where you can freeze it for up to 3-5 years, and give orally to a newborn under 18 hours of age.  Anytime there is a sale or transfer of livestock, a bill of sale is required and also a call to the brand inspector’s office.  All premises where livestock are kept are to be registered with the USDA;   For more information one can go to


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary