Have you ever considered raising deer for food? For many homesteaders, this is a viable option for obtaining fresh, organic meat and it can be for you too! Not only is deer meat (also called “venison”) healthy and delicious (and free from everything bad like GMO feed, hormones, and other questionable inclusions found in commercial meat), but it can also be a sustainable source of income for your family.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits of raising deer for food and how to get started with this rewarding endeavor. In fact, aside from the logistical issues of getting started raising cervids (members of the deer family), deer meat has no downside, and all upside when compared with meat from other comparable sources like cows, pigs, etc.
I live near a deer farm and I’ve also researched deer farming for many hours over many days, so if you’re ready to learn more about homestead deer farming, read on!
Table of Contents
Can I Raise My Own Deer for Food?
It is very possible to raise deer for food on a small scale, but it is important to check with your local and state regulations before doing so. Some states may have specific requirements or regulations for raising deer for personal consumption, such as obtaining a permit or following certain guidelines for animal welfare and disease control.
Other issues involve investing in land, fencing, some equipment, supplies, and education! (the education is for you, not the deer).
One big impediment will be that you’ll likely need at least 1 acre (preferably 2 acres) for each deer to graze and forage for food. It’s possible to have less land, but you’ll need to purchase or supply them with more food, and there could be some behavioral issues or problems with disease in a smaller pasture or paddock.
That said, many hobby deer farmers have chosen to raise whitetail deer because of the low-maintenance nature of raising cervids compared to cows, goats, pigs and even chickens.
Why Should I Bother Raising My Own Deer?
Raising deer can offer a wide variety of benefits including the fact that deer consume less food than livestock, they don’t negatively affect the land as much as cows and pigs, and they produce much healthier meat with less fat and no chemicals. They also reproduce over more of their lifespan and grow more quickly to maturity than traditional livestock.
While it may be hard to believe, the cervid-raising industry (raising mammals in the deer family like Elk, Reindeer, Whitetail Deer, etc.) is one of America’s fastest-growing rural industries.
The demand for venison is at a peak in North America, and some fast-food restaurants have even capitalized on this trend by offering their own versions of deer meat sandwiches. The demand was so high for some restaurants that new sources of meat needed to be found overseas!
The industry (from a larger-scale, money-making point of view) has grown to generate nearly $8 billion dollars for the U.S. economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs, according to the North America Deer Farmer’s Association.
In fact, because very little work is needed to condition the land/soil (like traditional farming), raising deer has been the answer to saving many family farms across the country that are having a hard time paying the necessary costs to continue maintaining ownership of their properties.
On a smaller scale, the same benefits are mostly available to homesteaders.
- Raising deer for food is a viable option for homesteaders looking to obtain fresh, organic meat.
- Deer meat is healthy and delicious, making it an appealing choice for many.
- Raising deer can be a sustainable source of income for families who choose to pursue this endeavor.
- Raising deer does not destroy your land.
- Food requirements for a deer are far less than raising a cow.
- Raising deer maximizes land use potential (as opposed to cattle-raising)
- Raising deer provides you with the meat of an animal whose demand in North America has been growing by at least 25% annually for the past 5-10 years.
- Raising deer will provide you with the lowest maintenance farming style of virtually all other options including other livestock options, poultry, agricultural options, and aquaculture options like fish farming.
- Deer antlers have a variety of medicinal uses, so very little goes to waste.
Starting Your Own Deer Farm (What to Consider)
Starting a deer farm requires knowledge of land selection, species selection, legal permits and regulations, veterinary services, fencing and housing, and proper nutrition. You need to have enough land to safely raise deer and house them comfortably.
What Species of Deer Should I Raise?
Many species are great to raise for meat, including fallow deer, reindeer, axis, elk, red, and whitetail deer.
The types of deer best suited for raising depends on your location; some states may only permit certain breeds or classes of deer to be raised. Before you purchase any animals you will need to obtain any necessary permits from your local authorities as well as enlist the help of a veterinarian to ensure that your animals are healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations.
You’ll also need to build a fence or fences around your property so you will need to consider the costs involved as well as how it can withstand any weather conditions.
What Do Farmed Deer Eat?
When it comes to feeding your animals, you should provide them with appropriate feed at all times and store it safely away from pests or diseases that could harm your deer. Hay, grains, supplements, or even fresh fruits and vegetables can be consumed by deer if done so properly.
Farmed deer should be fed a diet that is high in protein and energy to support growth and milk production. Here are some other common options for feeding farmed deer:
- Grasses, clovers, and legumes can make up a large portion of a deer’s diet, especially in the summer months. This is often called “forage”.
- Mixtures (aka. Concentrates) that are high in protein and energy, such as soybeans, corn, barley, oats, or wheat.
- A mineral supplement is important for deer to maintain their health, especially if they are not getting enough minerals from their forage or concentrates.
You’ll also need to make sure the deer have access to clean water at all times.
The right balance between protein and carbohydrates is essential in ensuring that they grow healthy and strong.
Feeding schedules should also be taken into account when raising deer. An adult animal should receive feed twice daily while younger ones may require smaller amounts more frequently throughout the day.
It’s a good idea to consult with experts in your area and research the specific requirements for the type of deer you plan to raise, as some deer may have different nutritional needs.
Obtaining assistance from local farmers could be a problem if you are perceived as a potential competitor or just needlessly “snoopy”.
How Fast Will a Deer Grow to Maturity?
The growth rate of farmed deer can vary (as you can imagine) with their diet, environment and genetics, but a year and a half to two years is the normal timeframe needed from birth to butcher for most species of deer.
Properly managed farms can expect their animals to reach marketable weight within two years with minimal bumps along the way such as health issues or poor nutrition practices leading to slower growth rates than expected due to stunted development in young animals due to improper management practices during their growing phases.
Challenges in Running a Deer Farm
While it is true that operating a small-scale deer farm (or just raising one deer) is relatively low-maintenance, it’s also true that there are inevitable challenges (like most things) to successfully bringing the deer to market or table. Some challenges include proper feeding techniques, shelter requirements, risk management, and healthcare.
One of the factors often overlooked by a small-scale farmer is the process of both health record keeping and veterinary check-ups. Some regions or states require proper records in order to help contain or control potential disease outbreaks.
Keeping birth and genetics records is important especially when it comes to breeding. Some farms (or specific bucks or does on that farm) often can get well known (in a good way or bad) and become in demand (or not) for breeding purposes.
How Much Land do I Need to Raise my Deer?
The amount of land needed to raise deer for food depends on quite a few variables, including the number of deer you plan to raise, the type of deer, and the local climate and terrain. Overall, it’s recommended to have at least 2-5 acres per deer, but it’s best to consult with experts in your area and research the specific requirements for the type of deer you plan to raise.
Additionally, you will need to check with your local and state regulations on raising deer for personal consumption.
Is It Legal to Farm Raise Deer in my State or Province?
It is legal to farm-raise deer in the United States, but the regulations and requirements vary by state. Some states have specific regulations for raising deer for personal consumption or for commercial purposes, such as obtaining a permit or following certain guidelines for animal welfare and disease control. Additionally, some states may have restrictions on the types of deer that can be raised, or on the number of deer that can be kept on a property.
In Canada, it is also legal to farm-raise deer as long as the farmer obtains the proper licenses and permits from the appropriate government agency. Farmers may be subject to federal regulations under the Health of Animals Act and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) guidelines.
It is important to check with your Provincial/State/local authorities to understand the regulations and requirements for raising deer in your area. It’s also important to be aware of laws and regulations related to the sale of deer meat, and how the deer should be processed, as it can vary from state to state.
It’s never a bad idea to make sure that you have the needed facilities and resources to raise the deer in a safe and humane way. Venison produced in a “deer-mill” or cramped and neglected environment will likely be at least less healthy and tasty, and at worst, dangerous, unhealthy and potentially toxic.
In What Type of Field or Enclosure Should I Keep Farmed Deer?
Farmed deer require a bit of extra precaution to keep contained since they are able to leap very high, unlike a typical cow. Fences should be at least 8 feet tall and should be purchased specifically for deer (high tensile) since deer will probably test the integrity of the fence more than would a cow. Electric fences are another excellent option.
In addition to high-tensile fencing, a woven wire fence is often used for deer since it is more durable and measurably stronger than typical livestock fencing. It’s possible to add a section of barbed wire to discourage escape, but don’t use barbed wire as the only type of fencing since this can be dangerous and even fatal to deer.
Electric fencing is one of the best options but you need to make sure you’re maintaining it and setting it properly so it’s set high enough to deter, but not so high it harms the deer.
A high fence with barbed wire or electric current will deter any predators in addition to keeping your deer where they belong.
Here is a very good guideline for how to keep farmed deer from escaping their enclosures and what to do if it escapes.
A shelter like a horse run-in shed is perfect for keeping deer in a paddock.
Will Farmed Deer Reproduce?
Farmed deer can and will reproduce, but how successfully they do so, depends on the species of deer and the conditions of the farm. Some species, such as white-tailed deer, typically reproduce well in captivity, while others might have lower reproductive rates.
Factors such as genetics, nutrition, and health can also affect a deer’s ability to reproduce. Additionally, farmers may choose to control the breeding of their deer through techniques such as artificial insemination or using contraception.
Unlike cattle, domesticated deer can reproduce continually for up to 20 years!
Some species of deer, such as white-tailed deer, have a high reproductive rate and can have multiple fawns per year. That’s why we like the idea of raising white-tailed deer over a variety of other species.
Most other deer have a lower reproductive rate. White-tailed deer typically have one fawn per year, but they can have twins or triplets as well.
How do I Find a Veterinarian for my Deer?
It can be challenging to find a veterinarian who is experienced in caring for farmed deer since this is really a very specialized field, but consulting veterinarians that have experience with livestock is a good starting point. Contacting your state’s Department of Agriculture will nearly always lead you to a livestock veterinarian.
Here’s a good example from the State of Tennessee.
Most vets are not familiar with the unique health needs of deer and may not have the equipment or expertise needed to diagnose and treat deer-specific illnesses.
It’s best to search for a veterinarian who has experience treating deer or other large farm animals and has the equipment and knowledge to handle them. Some states have specialized large animal veterinarians that could be contacted instead of a local clinic that specializes in poodles and kittens!
It might be worth reaching out to other deer farmers in your area to see if they know of a veterinarian who can help. It’s also important to establish a good relationship with a veterinarian early on, so you have someone to turn to in case of an emergency.
How Do I Process the Deer Once it’s Ready for Butchering?
Processing and butchering deer requires knowledge and experience, so it’s recommended to have the help of an experienced person or hire a professional butcher. Also, it’s important to follow sanitation and safety guidelines to ensure that the meat is safe for consumption.
The deer should be harvested in a humane manner, with minimal stress to the animal. You can do this with a rifle or bow, or by using captive bolt stunning. As a kid growing up on a farm, I’ve done this personally (with cows) with a .22 caliber rifle between the eyes. I know it sounds cruel, but at point-blank range, it’s the same as using a captive bolt gun.
The deer should be skinned and quartered as soon as possible after harvest, to prevent spoilage and to make it easier to handle the meat.
The meat should be cooled as quickly as possible to prevent bacterial growth and then aged for at least a few days to a week to allow the meat to tenderize and develop flavor.
Cutting and packaging: The meat should be cut into steaks, roasts, and other cuts, and packaged for storage or sale.
Raising Your Own Deer – Key Takeaways
Deer farming is becoming increasingly popular among business owners who want to raise deer in a controlled environment while reaping all the benefits associated with selling all sorts of products from these animals such as meat, leather goods, antlers, etc .
However, there are many things that need to be considered before starting up such an operation such as land selection, species selection, legal permits & regulations, veterinarian services & costs associated with building fencing around pens/enclosures/housing facilities.
Also, proper nutrition must be provided at all times along with understanding growth rates & challenges associated with running this type of business. We’ve outlined a few of these challenges in this article.
With careful planning, anyone wanting to start up their own successful deer farm can do it if they understand what needs are involved and if they’re ready to tackle the challenges.
BEFORE YOU GO… here’s a very interesting television news feature on an Oklahoma deer farm operation that can give some great insight into even a very small farm of 1-5 deer that you might make!