The deer industry in Alberta, has proven to be a very rewarding and successful farming practise to those producers who are dedicated to raising high quality deer. Overcoming the challenges of the past, and working toward the exciting opportunities of the future, has unified deer producers from around the province. By working together, markets for high quality deer in Alberta and across Canada will continue to grow for many years. The increasing growth and success of the deer industry in the United States proves the value of deer as alternatives to traditional livestock. Getting Started

The Livestock Industry Diversification Act (LIDA) is administered by Alberta Agriculture & Food, Regulatory Services Division. It specifies that a game farm license is required in order to raise Whitetail and Mule deer. Licenses cost $100 and must be renewed annually.

The mandatory requirements are as follows:
  • Farms must be located on privately owned land with at least ten acres included in the fenced portion.
  • The exterior fence must be sufficiently high and dense to prevent domestic game animals from escaping: and prevent wild game of the species to be farmed from entering the game farm enclosure.
  • A handling facility, which allows game animals to be restrained sufficiently to read registration ear tags or draw blood samples, must be constructed.
  • All animals must be tagged and registered, and operators must produce an annual inventory of all livestock.
An option which may appeal to some is the opportunity to board or invest in the industry without having to buy land or erect fences. Many farms are now offering packages which may include boarding. This way, you can board your herd temporarily, while you are building your facilities or you can simply invest in animals with a continuous boarding arrangement, and reap the profits from your investment.

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Production Information & Management Guidelines

Before starting a deer farming operation, it is a good idea to visit existing deer farms. The Alberta Whitetail and Mule Deer Association meetings and Annual Convention are a good place to meet other farmers and learn about the industry.

Does should be bred at one and one-half years of age and up, however, with good management and nutrition, fawns are capable of breeding once they reach 90lbs. The average reproductive life of a doe is approximately 10 years and the average ratio of does to bucks is 15:1. Breeding bucks should be replaced as new, better genetics are available either from your own herd or from sourcing outside breeding stock. This may mean that a buck is only use for 1 to 3 seasons before being replaced. The expected death loss for a doe herd is 5% and with good management, farmers can attain an average weaning rate of 1.5 fawns per doe.

Deer have a seven-month gestation period which means breeding in November and birthing in June. They do not require fawning assistance. Some producers keep a close watch on the deer during fawning and tag the fawns as soon as possible after they are born. Others do not go near the deer until fawning is complete and do their tagging in the fall when the fawns are weaned.

A doe-fawn(s) unit requires a minimum 0.5 acres of pasture. In other words, you can pasture 2 doe and doe fawn(s) units per acre of pasture. Providing more acreage, however, can be advantageous. In comparison, pastures can normally carry 6 to 8 mature does and offspring for each beef cow/calf pair.

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Nutrition

The feeding program is a key component of any successful Whitetail or mule deer operation. Current feed costs range from $200 to $ 250 per animal/per year. A proper feeding program will produce better stock and maximize production. Emphasis needs to be placed on proper pasture utilization and proper feeding of hay, grain and supplements. Feeding proper amounts of good quality feed is very important in maintaining a high fawning rate. Dr. James Kroll, a Whitetail deer expert from the Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, recommends a minimum of 16% protein in a typical deer ration for does and bucks.

Breeding stock requires approximately 2.5% of their body weight (based on limited information, estimates range from 1.5% of body weight to 3% of body weight) on a dry matter basis per day to maintain their weight. This is an average for the whole year and varies a great deal depending on the season. Does require greater than average feed requirements during the late summer and autumn in preparation for the rut. Bucks require large quantities of good quality feed in the spring, summer and autumn to get into condition for antler growth, rut and winter. Bucks will lose weight during rut, maintain their weight over winter and will not gain weight until the next spring. As they go into winter survival mode, their metabolism slows down and they cannot consume large quantities of feed.

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Pasture

If a pasture system is to be utilized, it is important that the pasture is composed of a mixture of legumes, clovers and grass species. Pastures containing mixed forage species, particularly legumes and/or clovers mixed with grass (e.g., alfalfa/brome grass or straight alfalfa) are excellent choices. Whitetail deer require forage species which are low in fiber and contain a high percentage of rapidly digested energy and will not receive adequate levels of nutrients grazing on straight grass pastures. Deer are also browsers and will benefit from pastures containing brush (e.g., poplar bluffs) which function as a food source, shelter and provide cover for hiding. Properly managed pastures will allow maximum feed utilization, particularly from mid-spring to late summer as feeding hay would not be necessary. Proper pasture stocking rates will range from three to seven animals per acre depending on pasture quality and carrying capacity.

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Hay

Hay is typically fed from early autumn to mid-spring. High protein/low fiber hay such as early or second cut alfalfa and alfalfa/brome are the forages of choice. Good quality hay is usually best fed free choice, along with specific amounts of grain and supplement. Hay can be fed close to the handling facility or pens to allow the producer to observe the deer during feeding, to habituate the deer to the pens and handling area and to familiarize the deer with the producer. This will make the deer easier to handle. Estimated yearly hay requirements (lb./animal/day) are:

Does: 3lb. Per day x 180 days = 540lbs.(0.245 ton)

Bucks: 4lbs. Per day x 180 days = 720 lbs. (0.327 ton)

Yearling does: 2.8 lbs. Per day x 180 days = (0.229 ton)

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Fencing And Handling

The minimum height requirement for the perimeter fence of a deer operation is 9 feet. There are no regulations for interior fences, however 8 feet is necessary to stop the deer from jumping the fence. Exterior fences are built of 8 foot high tensile wire mesh with two strands of high tensile wire along the top to bring the height up to 9 feet.

Exterior fences require posts that maintain tension on all horizontal wires and keep the bottom of the mesh at ground level. 12 foot posts are most commonly used however old power poles or drill stem pipe can also be used.

Although it is not a licensing requirement, it is strongly recommended that predator proofing be used on the bottom of exterior fences. (Predator proof wire, Stucco wire, chicken wire or an electric wire at a height of 5 inches off the ground).

Well designed, well built handling facilities are essential in a deer operation. As part of maintaining their game farm license, producers must make their animals accessible for inspection. Before developing facilities, new farmers should visit existing producers to determine the best set up.

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References:
White-tailed Deer Financial & Production Information April, 1997
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food, Regina, Saskatchewan