I get quite a few e-mail and guest book requests from people who want to become a deer farmers. If you are one of those considering deer or elk farming (and there are a few on our mailing list), here is some advice and suggestions on how to get started.
First, why would anyone want to become a deer farmer? I believe there are 4 main reasons:
1. Love of deer – many deer farmers were (and still are) avid hunters. They love deer, but spending only several weeks in the bush looking for them is not enough. By farming deer, they now can enjoy that trophy buck all year round. From the comments I get, many deer farmers truly enjoy raising these animals, especially the native species such as white-tailed and mule deer.
2. Diversification – according to U.S. statistics, about two-thirds of American farms lose money every year (same in Canada). Farmers are always looking for ways to spread the risk, and diversify to smooth the economic cycles of traditional agricultural commodities. If you already have the land, raising deer and elk is a reasonable addition to your farming operations.
3. Money – some people enter the business (especially elk farming) as an investment with the expectation of significant returns. Yes, there are some pretty attractive prices being paid for top breeding stock and their semen, but there are also significant risks.
4. Hobby – some people that have the financial resources raise deer as a hobby, just as others raise horses or dogs. Since deer and elk require little labour and almost look after themselves, they are a good choice for a hobby-farmer.
For what types of people would deer and elk farming be most suitable? Four types come to mind:
1. Existing livestock farmers – if you are already raising cattle, you probably are a good candidate for raising deer and elk. You already have the land, equipment and some of the facilities. You know how to handle and look after animals. Deer and elk do well on marginal land that may not be suitable for your cattle. The big costs will be fencing and handling facilities.
2. Grain farmers – you already have the land, the equipment and some of the facilities. However, do you have the knowledge, patience and experience to work with animals?
3. Ex-farmer types living and working in the city – at least you know what is involved in farming and some of the issues. Your regular job may give you some resources to invest in deer farming and look after them on a part-time basis.
4. Everyone else – yes, you may become a successful deer farmer provided you have enough money to invest in starting and operating a deer farm, and are willing to spend a lot of time and energy to learn about ALL the aspects of deer farming, i.e., business, production, animal management and health, and marketing. For you, it certainly is a riskier venture and you would be well advised to do your homework before taking the plunge.
For those future deer farmers who would have to start from scratch, I ask you to consider less risky alternatives. These include:
1. Buying a few deer and boarding them on an existing, well-run deer farm. That way you can significantly minimize your risks, reduce your work-loads, still enjoy your deer and take time to learn how to look after them. If everything goes well, you can eventually move the deer to your own farm.
2. Buy into an existing deer farm through some form of partnership or equity arrangement. This is another way to reduce the risk, and to work with people that have demonstrated they know how to raise and market deer. After you have learned what you need to know and gained some experience, you can sell out and start your own deer/elk farm.
So the first and most important step for a deer farmer wannabe is to do some research and information gathering. Here are some of the questions that you need to ask:
1. What is the legal status of deer/elk farming in my province or state? If deer or elk farming is not allowed, then you will have to move to a jurisdiction where it is, or forget the idea.
2. What deer species are permitted to be farmed – native, exotic or both?
3. What are the minimum legal requirements that must be met, e.g., land requirements, fencing, registration, etc.?
4. What resources are necessary for me to set up as a deer farmer? Do I have the resources? If not, how will I get them?
5. Do I have the knowledge and skills necessary to run a deer farming operation successfully, e.g., business, production, animal management and health, marketing skills? If not, how do I plan to acquire them or hire them?
6. What is the general outlook for the deer/elk industry in my state/province and/or in my country? Are good breeding animals available at affordable prices?
7. How do you plan to generate revenues/cash flows from your deer farm and become profitable? What is the market for each of the following products? On which ones will you focus?
- breeding males (bucks and bulls)
- hunting or trophy males
- bred or breeder females
- animals for meat/venison
- fawns and calves
- bottle-fed young
- venison (wholesale, retail)
- processed meat products (hams, jerky, etc.)
- raw/green deer/elk velvet antler
- processed velvet antler products
- urine and urine products
- skins, hides and leathers.
8. What services, if any, do you also plan to offer? What is the revenue potential of each?
- farm/ranch tours
- private hunting on your farm or ranch
- guiding services (on private or public lands)
- bottle raising of young deer and elk
- boarding facilities and services
- semen collection, storage and handling
- A.I. services
- hauling and transportation
- farm design and construction
- handling facilities design and construction
- fencing construction
- meat processing and packaging
- workshops and seminars.
9. How will I sell my products and services to generate revenues and cash to pay for my expenses? What do I need to do to develop and implement a marketing and promotion program?
10. How will I finance my deer/elk farm? Do I need external financing? How much will I need and from where will I get it?
Where do you find the answers to these questions? For a start, try these:
1. Deer and elk websites – obviously the place to start is Deerfarmer.com. We have much information on all aspects of deer farming. Visit our discussion forums - http://www.deerforum.com - to see what problems and issues deer farmers are dealing with on a day- to-day basis. Check out our Classified Ads to see who is selling what for how much - http://ads.deerfarmer.com . Use our Links section to find other deer farming sites. Check them out, as they are likely to be a great source of information.
2. Deer and elk associations – find the address of your nearest deer or elk association and contact them for more information. They will have an information package available and can provide you with information on local regulations and market conditions. You may want to join as an associate member to get their publications. If possible, attend their meetings, and especially their conferences (if they have one). Also contact the national associations, such as the North American Deer Farmers Association ( http://www.nadefa.org ) and the North American Elk Breeders Association ( http://www.naelk.org ). An up-to-date list of associations can be found in the Deerfarmer.com Library.
3. Other deer/elk farmers – these are probably your best source of practical operational information. The best way to find other deer farmers in your vicinity is through the associations. Another source is our Deer Farm Directory on Deerfarmer.com, although this listing currently is for white-tailed deer farmers. Our plan is to expand this directory soon to include farmers of all deer and elk species.
Hopefully, this is enough to get you started on your journey to becoming a deer or elk farmer. In the next article, I will talk about putting all this information together into a business plan.