Owning a deer farm is work but worth it

Owning a deer farm is work but worth it

By Bryce Beitzel, Staff Writer

All sorts of farms are frequently found across Illinois and the surrounding Midwest. There are farms with the typical livestock like cows, pigs, chickens, as well as farms that grow crops. But one more rare type of farm, is a deer farm. These farmers breed their deer to either sell their venison, antlers, urine, velvet, or the deer themselves. In Jeff Vanderlip’s case, he raises his deer to release them onto his property in Spring Grove, to increase the quantity and quality of deer.

“You know, it’s a lot of work. My deer Milo and Willow go through an unimaginable amount of grain and corn year-round, so it’s tricky keeping our barn filled with enough food and water,” Vanderlip said. “Another thing, which is not as difficult as feeding them but still tricky, is keeping their acre or two of land perfect for them to live in. It seems like we are having to do a project every weekend to keep their habitat perfect. Whether it’s fixing the fence, removing a dead tree, or planting more grass. But, when my wife and I get to release their offspring onto our property and see them and their kids grow, it’s truly special and definitely worth it.”

Although owning a deer farm does require far less land compared to any other farm with large animals, there are other tough obstacles to push through according to an article by Ame Vanorio on morningchores.com. According to Vanorio, deer are very susceptible to a wide variety of diseases and sicknesses. Tuberculosis is common in whitetail and can cause trouble breathing and nasal discharge.

Another, far worse, disease that whitetail can get is chronic wasting disease. This is a vaccine-less disease that degenerates the brain of the deer, similar to mad cow disease in cattle. Videos on the internet have surfaced of so called “Zombie Deer” who act like legitimate zombies, but they are not the undead, they just have chronic wasting disease. Only certain veterinarians are able to go to farms to test the deer for these diseases and test the environment for the deer and makes sure they meet their standards. Vanderlip also made it clear that the installation and maintenance of the fence and shelter weren’t easy as well.

“The fences themselves have to be at least eight feet high because these guys are super athletic. Not to mention they weigh close to 300 pounds each, so these fences have to be dug deep into the ground. They hold up really well during calm periods, but when there is high winds or bad rain they sometimes can get a little loose. I always end up repairing them immediately because if they got loose and a hunter got a look at my buck Milo, that hunter wouldn’t have a deterring thought in his or her head to keep from taking a shot at him. Their shelter I have for them is also pretty strong and puts up a good fight in tough weather. I’ve had some boards fall before but they’re easily fixable.”

As their deer have babies, Vanderlip and other deer farmers look to sell the males and either keep and breed the females or put them onto their own hunting property. They do so because it is typically the doe that carry a more important role in the antler genetics of their offspring. Bucks that are grown in captivity with large antler, can be shot and “hunted” from $1,000 up to $10,000. Aside from selling deer for their antlers alone, venison can typically be sold from $5 to $50 per pound if bought locally. A fawn, to be raised in captivity, can be bought for usually around $1,500 to $3,000. Ketty Vanderlip, Jeff Vanderlip’s wife, explained how the young fawns are very special in their own ways.

“I have had fawns that would come up to me and lick me all over, and I have also had fawns that were scared of me the whole time they were here. It seems like depending on how comfortable they are with us they are either like needy puppies or like deer in the wild, scared. Even our oldest, Willow, who we’ve had for ten plus years will come up to anyone who meets her and let them pet her and she will lick them all over. She even responds and comes to her name like a well-trained dog.”

Jeff said: “When we first bought Willow she cost around a grand. That was around ten years ago now. She’s had multiple fawn since we’ve got her. I’d say she’s had around eight fawn that we’ve kept until they were around one and then either sold them or put them on our property down in Jefferson County. It’s nice knowing that although we have hunted and killed our fair share of deer, we have increased the population of whitetail in our area by breeding them.”

After ten years of running his mini deer farm, Jeff Vanderlip had some choice words of encouragement and advice to give to anyone with a desire to have their very own deer farm.

“If someone were to want to become a deer farmer, whether it’s for eventually hunting offspring or for profit, I suggest they first get the required permits in order to legally own deer. They then should make sure they have enough money to feed them, as well as enough land and money to build them a proper fence and shelter to fully sustain their needs. And the final thing that a future deer farmer should do before buying fawns, Is not only make sure you have the time to care for them, but also make sure you have information of a veterinarian that can treat them and give them vaccines if sick. So, if just me and my wife could do this and do it successfully, then so can anyone who has the work ethic and the ambition to do so.”