If you want to raise livestock but can't do it full-time, white-tailed deer may be a good alternative. You might have wild white-tailed deer on your property and notice they will eat almost any plant. Their commercially raised relatives do the same, so land that can't support cattle or other livestock may suit white-tailed deer just fine. Deer do require pasture, but the quality need not be as high as for other species. Figure on allotting 1 acre of land for every two or three whitetail deer. That's a minimum -- animals are less stressed on larger parcels.
Check with your state's Department of Agriculture and Department of Fish and Game before going ahead with your white-tailed deer farm plans. Regulations for raising white-tailed deer vary by state and even municipality.
Obtaining and Transporting Deer
Purchase your stock from established deer farmers, who should furnish you with necessary health certificates and genetic information. Once you've purchased your deer, you must move them to your farm -- not an easy task. While a well-ventilated livestock trailer can fill the bill for transportation, keep in mind that transporting white-tailed deer is not a job for an amateur. Depending on state law, the animals may have to be chemically immobilized during transport. A reputable seller should know the ropes regarding deer transportation and recommend a transporter if the seller does not offer that service.
Nothing jumps quite like a deer. That means you'll need exceptionally high fencing to contain your herd. While high-tensile wire fences standing at least 8 feet high are commonly used, your state may have specific regulations regarding white-tailed deer fencing. No matter what type of fencing is required, use fencing specifically designed for deer, not other livestock species.
You'll need to construct deer pens to handle your stock for various purposes. These include:
- Vaccination: Deer receive similar vaccines as sheep and cattle, along with some that are species-specific.
- Antler removal
- Artificial insemination
- Shipping deer
- Caring for and quarantining sick deer.
The type of pens needed are often site specific, notes the North American Deer Farmers Association.
While deer can do well on good pasture in spring and fall, they'll require hay and feed in dry or cold weather. If your pastures aren't good quality, you'll need to feed your herd year round. Feed your herd a combination of deer corn and all-purpose sweet feed. Adult deer consume about 4 pounds of feed daily. Feed your deer alfalfa -- a bale should feed four grown deer for seven days. Remove any uneaten alfalfa daily. Your deer must have access to fresh, clean water at all times.
Some deer farmers keep breeder bucks to mate with their does, while others use artificial insemination, especially for the purpose of improving the herd's genetics. The latter is quite expensive, since the does must be anesthetized for the procedure. When the fawns arrive, on larger deer operations both sexes are allowed to nurse on their mothers for a few days to ensure they have received colostrum, that important first milk containing antibodies.
Bucklings are not separated from their mothers until the age of 12 weeks, but doe fawns are removed within a few days of birth and bottle-fed with milk replacer. These female fawns may be used as future breeding stock, and getting them used to people helps with overall handling. However, bucks can become quite aggressive during rut, so it's not a good practice to have bucks become friendly with humans.
Finding a veterinarian to attend to your deer may be quite difficult, if not impossible. There simply aren't many vets trained in deer medicine. You may find a large animal vet willing to help you. Potential lack of veterinary services is one reason it is crucial to keep your herd up to date on vaccinations, deworming and other health basics.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.