[By Ingrid G. Haarstad. Reprinted from the British Deer Farmers Association "Deer Farming" magazine, Summer 2002]
Since the early 1980's, forty-two deer farms have been established in Norway. The farms are small and only a few have reached the target number of animals. The number of breeding females is 500 red deer and 150 fallow deer. In the future, these farmers hope to have 2,100 breeding hinds, of which 600 would be fallow. Norwegian agriculture is in a time of change, so it is reasonable to suppose that there will be more new deer farms created as well.
The Norwegian Deer Breeders Association was founded in 1988. Today the Association has about 80 members. An informative magazine is sent out two to three times a year. The Association joined the Federation of European Deer Farmers Association in 1997.
All Norwegian farmed red deer originated from the wild Norwegian population. These animals represent the northernmost distribution of red deer in the world. There is only one documented importation of red deer to Norway. One hundred years ago, one stag and four hinds were imported from Germany. The animals were put into the wild red deer population on the island of Otteroya, north of Trondheim. We are now waiting for the results of research to see if there still is a genetic difference between the Otteroya population and the rest of the wild red deer in Norway.
The wild population of red deer is defined as a separate sub-species - "cervus elaphus atlanticus." Genetically it is more closely related to the Scottish than the Swedish populations. The west coast south of Trondheim is their main habitat, and in the last 30 years the number of animals has increased rapidly. In 2001, 23,500 deer were shot by hunters, compared to 2,500 in 1971.
At the moment, the demand for red deer livestock is high. Only a few deer farmers are able to sell livestock, and the waiting list is long. Use of red deer sub-species other than atlanticus is not allowed. In other words, no importation is permitted! This is to avoid the spread of diseases and hybridization with the wild population.
Despite the increasing numbers of wild deer, the authorities have been strict about capturing wild fawns to add to domestic herds. An agreement has been reached to allow capture of 400 wild animals between 2002 and 2006.
The livestock situation for fallow deer is better, but fallow deer farming is restricted to the counties by the Oslofjord.
No tuberculosis or other diseases have been detected on Norwegian deer farms. To solve the copper problem, traditional methods are mainly used. Also, a special concentrate mixture with extra high copper levels has recently been developed by one of the farmers.
Visits from lynx and the protected wolverine inside the fences has become a problem for some farmers. Farmed deer are defined as game and do not have the same rights as domestic livestock. This means there is no financial compensation for farmed deer killed by predators. Some farmers have given up deer farming because of this problem.
The most northern deer farms have special winter enclosures with 12 foot fences because of the snow levels. Other parts of the country can also get a lot of snow in extreme winters. One farmer lost nearly all his animals. A high snow level and the formation of an ice-crust that allowed the animals to walk over the fence.
Hunting on farms and velvetting is illegal. Venison is therefore the main source of income. In 2001, Norwegian deer farmers produced about 6.5 tons of venison. Most of this meat was either consumed by the owner or sold privately. In addition, 23,500 wild deer were culled. The trading statistics showed that 32.5 tons of venison were imported. The total importation of meat from deer, moose and reindeer in 2001 was 668 tons.
It is hard to compete on price, so Norwegian farmers are looking to the market for specialty foods to make production economical. Some farmers believe that the mixing of deer farming with tourism is a way to make operations profitable.
Most of the farmers do the slaughtering on their farms. The legal regulations are quite strict. Only a few farmers have approved slaughter facilities needed to sell venison commercially. The Norwegian Red Deer Centre is working to have the regulations changed to make them more realistic.
The Norwegian deer farmers have many difficult challenges to tackle to grow their industry. The lack of livestock, the punitive slaughtering regulations, and the damage caused by predators are just some examples. Other things that need to be worked on are a national registration for farmed deer; an organized breeding program; and the need to improve the knowledge of effective and economical venison production among the farmers.
[This article shows that deer farmers, no matter which part of the globe they live on, face many similar challenges - in good part caused by unfriendly regulatory environments. Ed]