Domestic Deer

Noah Rothman’s article at brought my thoughts back to the 1970’s when I researched the possibility of ranching fallow deer.  Rothman wrote about whitetail deer in New Jersey: “In Western New Jersey, a population-dense state with an equally high concentration of whitetail deer, the problem is an increasingly urgent one. “Sustainable levels of deer should be 5 to 15 individuals per square mile,” one local arboretum fretted in 2021. “New Jersey averages 112 per square mile, with some areas as high as 270.”

He goes on to describe deer as “positively delicious” and then describes how the retail market for venison: “But you can’t buy deer meat at your local grocer or often even at upscale food purveyors. This NPR reporter found venison loin selling for a staggering $40 per pound. And about 85 percent of all deer meat sold in American restaurants is imported from New Zealand.”

That took me back to the seventies – when I looked into the idea of raising fallow deer commercially.  The price per pound was lower back then, but so was the cost of fuel.  I pencil-whipped it out – distribution would have required a van with refrigeration, much like the folks who come from the west coast with frozen fish.  And fallow deer have been a domestic animal since the days of Julius Caesar:

“When kept in parks or enclosures, Fallow Deer can become remarkably tame and are generally undisturbed by the presence of people. However, this belies the secretive and timid ways of wild living animals.”

What wasn’t there to like – recreating the research trail is far easier now with the net available than it was in Trego in the seventies:

“For thirty years I’ve been raising fallow deer,” says Bob Strange as he gazes across an open pasture filled with the creatures.

Fallow deer are medium-sized deer, which typically weigh less than 200 pounds. Known for their large, webbed antlers, the bucks can be quite popular for hunting. These creatures can vary in color, ranging from black, brown and white, and most keep their spots forever. These unique characteristics are what drew Strange to raising them.

“I just really liked the looks of them,” Strange says, “so I figured I’d try it out.”

Thirty years ago, his herd started with three. Today, he now raises nearly 200 fallow deer near Mount Ayr, Iowa. During the summer, his herd doubles, as fawns are born between June and July. Strange typically sells the animals for hunting purposes, and sometimes for meat.

“I pretty much just sell them to anyone who wants one,” says Strange.

Fallow deer are fairly easy to care for. They do not contract disease as easy as whitetail deer, and don’t require large amounts of food. Strange raises his on pasture, hay, and corn.”

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