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Raising fallow deer.

When we moved to the country in the summer of 93, we began looking for some type of animal that would lend itself to our hilly pastures. We considered buffalo or emus, but heard some scary tales about them. Besides, they were expensive.

We checked into fallow deer, a European breed that is smaller than our native whitetail. They cost less than cattle, but do require 8-foot fences. That was our biggest expense. The amount of pasture needed for one cow will take care of seven deer. Their meat has no wild taste and is very lean -- great for those concerned about cholesterol and heart conditions. They come in three colors: tan with white spots, chocolate brown, and white.

The following spring we purchased nine bred does, seven chocolate and two spotted. Later, we bought a chocolate and a spotted buck, each four years old. Even though they have been raised in captivity, they are naturally skittish and panic easily, although one spotted doe will eat corn out of our hand. We named her Granny, since she is older than the others and seems to have been treated like a pet.

She is the only doe named. It is our policy to never name anything we are going to eat! The bucks will be kept for breeding only, so they became Buckwheat and Barley.

The next year, we bought 10 spotted and three chocolate does, followed by another chocolate and spotted buck. These bucks became Sorghum and Milo. Since then, we've added Oats, Rye and Wheat. Some day we might get really exotic and add Triticale and Amaranth!

We purchased a used portable hammermill to grind their winter feed which consists of alfalfa, protein supplements, corn and dry molasses. During pasturing season, we give only small amounts of this.

Our second year, 100% of the does produced babies. The third year, we had 25 fawns out of 26 does. We are really excited about these percentages.

This year we butchered eight young culls. We are not set up for home butchering, so we used the local slaughter plant. They, in turn, helped find buyers for the carcasses that we didn't need for ourselves.

We gave one carcass to a restaurant in Vermont, Illinois. They plan to do a venison night. This may open up another market for our meat. Other markets are breeding stock, trophy bucks for hunting preserves, and antlers. Our extra bucks aren't old enough yet for hunting preserves. We have shipped some antlers to a business in Wisconsin, and we have enough to send to another outlet in Texas. They are used for knife handles, furniture decorations, hat racks and other craft items.

The bucks lose their antlers in April and start the new growth within two weeks. During the growth period, the antlers are covered with a soft fuzzy layer called velvet. By the end of August, when the racks are full size, this layer comes off and they are a hard bony texture.

We now have 70 deer, ranging from one to seven years old. Rut (mating) season begins in October and lasts through December. The bucks can be dangerous during this time. Their necks swell up and they make noises that sound like an angry old sow. Naturally, we take extra precautions if we need to be in the pens. This year fawning began the first week of June.

Our deer are becoming quite a local attraction. We frequently have people come to see them. Of course, our grandchildren love to stand at the fence and give Granny her snack. We welcome visitors.

In the future, we would like to turn our north acreage (wooded, with gullies a pond) into a preserve for bow hunters. But for now, we are happy to step outside in the early morning and marvel at their frisky antics over the hillside.
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Author:Miller, Clause; Miller, Joanne
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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